I spent a day this month in Tsukuba Science City to see the cutting edge research and development being done there, and especially to find out more about all the amazing ways Japanese and American researchers are making the world a better place.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is one of the most advanced space agencies in the world and a close partner to NASA. There are over 70 active cooperative agreements between the U.S. and Japan in space on missions that cover human space exploration, space science, Earth science, and aeronautics. At the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center, JAXA engineers staff the KIBO Mission Control Center for the International Space Station (ISS) around the clock as they operate the KIBO science module. The huge KIBO Science Laboratory is a popular workplace for all the astronauts doing research on the ISS. I was surprised to see how spacious it felt when I stood inside the mockup.
I also learned about how Japan's H-2A Transfer Vehicle (HTV) sends needed cargo to the ISS, including our own. I really liked the story of how Japan agreed to add some NASA cargo to the HTV-5 launch last year at the last minute because accidents impacted our planned deliveries -- one friend helping out another in a time of need.
Nearby, experiments performed at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) have led to four Nobel prizes over decades of international cooperation. The researchers at KEK took me to visit the SuperKEKB Accelerator, a three-kilometer loop of concrete tunnels, metal tubes, and high-precision magnets -- something truly out of science fiction! Scientists will use the data generated by the accelerator to investigate the fundamental laws that governed the beginning of the universe. What makes this facility such a wonderful model is that the accelerator is open to researchers around the world. I talked with some of the American researchers who come here regularly and it was wonderful to see their enthusiasm. Such collaboration is made possible thanks to Japan's generosity in opening this facility to international researchers.
I also went across the road to visit the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). The research AIST oversees nationally includes a renewable energy research center in Fukushima. Two American researchers who are now living and working in Japan described their research and talked about the opportunities and challenges of linking academic research with the private sector.
While I was in Tsukuba, I took the opportunity to visit one of Japan’s most well-known robotics scientists, Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, and congratulate him on the branch office that Cyberdyne recently established in the United States. I was familiar with his famous Human Assisted Limb (HAL) technology, but visiting the Cyberdyne Studio in Tsukuba gave me a chance to see firsthand a patient walking with HAL as part of his rehabilitation therapy. Given its complexity, I had assumed that learning to control HAL would be a challenge, but I was able to get HAL moving according to my commands after just a few minutes of practice. I look forward to seeing how Cyberdyne's work in the United States develops.
I am so proud of all the different ways that Americans and Japanese are working together in science and want to do what I can to get the word out and encourage even more exchanges and collaborations.