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Space and Security

Careers in Science From the Field

Mr. Masato Koyama is the Director of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in the Washington, DC branch office. He received his Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Keiou University in Japan.

Mr. Hitoshi Tsuruma is the Deputy Director of JAXA's Washington, DC office. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Urdu Language and Literature from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

JAXA is an independent institution devoted to space exploration, from basic research to development and practical applications.

What is your profession?

Mr. Koyama: Director of JAXA
Mr. Tsuruma: Deputy Director of JAXA

What are the responsibilities of your position?

Mr. Koyama: I am responsible for managing JAXA's Washington, DC office by cooperating with the other three staff members to respond to the US policy for aerospace, to investigate the movement of the international aerospace industry, and to communicate with other institutions like NASA. In addition to that, another mission of this office is conducting research in order to find beneficial information for Japan, the United States, and the world.

Mr. Tsuruma: I mainly support the Director of JAXA's Washington, DC office. My major responsibilities are almost the same kinds of tasks that Mr. Koyama does--to collect various kinds of information related to the world aerospace industry, and to communicate with the headquarters of JAXA in Japan.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

Mr. Koyama: In this office, there are many types of things to do, and it is difficult to explain specific tasks. Mainly, I communicate with the members of JAXA in Japan, and when they come to the US for their research, I give them a guide of aerospace institutions located in the Washington, DC area, such as NASA. We basically gather information about aerospace by attending symposiums, academic institutes, and workshops related to outer space, and by collaborating with consulting firms to gather information. For example, I went to Huntsville, Alabama to participate in the NASA Advisory Council at the Marshall Space Center a few days ago. We also respond to various questions from Japanese organizations and the Ministry of Education.

Mr. Tsuruma: My main job is supporting the Director, so it changes weekly. For example, this week I attended the Science and Space Committee of Congress Senator House Testimony on Monday and Tuesday and reported the information, which I relayed to JAXA headquarters in Japan. I also gave tours with other staff for a JAXA research group from Japan, visiting international aerospace institutions such as the Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?

Mr. Koyama: The most satisfying thing is to experience the dynamism of this fast growing field, aerospace, in an advanced country like the United States. The Bush Administration announced a new vision for space exploration on January 14, and I realized that this country is moving to a new phase of outer space programs. The most challenging task for me is working in an English-speaking environment when managing and interacting with other institutions, because my background is more in technological research. I used to analyze flight simulation and to perform experiments for space programs in the beginning, when I first entered JAXA.

Mr. Tsuruma: The most attractive thing is to work in the aerospace industry, which is unique and the latest frontier of science. Working in the center of politics in the United States enables me to gain invaluable experience and to take advantage of the resources of this international city, Washington, DC. Cooperation with NASA would be a one example.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

Mr. Koyama: This field, exploring space, is giving dreams to people. I am really fascinated by being involved in a dream-giving field.

Mr. Tsuruma: The benefit of working in this field would be the rare opportunity to be involved with one of the biggest state-level projects.

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

Mr. Koyama: The biggest challenge that Japan has been facing is that Japan does not have a clear, big-picture purpose for space development. This is my personal opinion and I think that we, Japan, should move into the next step of advanced space programs. I strongly desire that Japan will be capable of launching manned space flights like the US did in the past. The international community is attempting to develop joint programs for outer space, like the missions for the moon and Mars, by monitoring the Bush Administration's movement, which has a great influence on other nations' programs.

Mr. Tsuruma: As Mr. Koyama said, one of our dreams in this field would be launching manned space flight to the moon and Mars someday. Realizing a space trip in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at a low cost of about $10,000 would be another goal.

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

Mr. Koyama: Space programs absolutely require diverse technologies, so I believe that people have to establish their own specialties individually and collaborate closely. It is very difficult to manage various resources together to promote space development projects. For engineers, they must build their own specific skills strongly.

Mr. Tsuruma: I personally believe that a challenge-seeking spirit and creativity are quite important if you would like to work in this field. As you may know, space development is beyond the examples of the past. We are at the leading edge of science. So, you have to create new things. When we need to negotiate with the UN or NASA to enact international space law, those two elements are definitely required.

What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

Mr. Koyama: About 10 years ago, when a Japanese Astronaut, Mamoru Mouri, experimented in outer space for the first time, I was highly engaged in the development of systems, training programs for astronauts, management of the experiments, and joint cooperative missions with NASA. Experiences in such international projects have helped me a lot in working as the director of this office.

Mr. Tsuruma: Have you ever seen a space shuttle launch? It is very magnificent, but at the same time it is also a delicate thing because it can fail due to a small defect in the launch system. If you enter this dynamic field, you will surely be engaged in this kind of project. In my experience in Japan before I came to this office, the most honorable thing was that I was in charge of managing the schedule of Astronaut Chiaki Mukai when she was going to space. I could experience the astronaut's entire process from training on land to the space shuttle launch. It was truly the most invaluable moment I have ever had when I saw her space flight. I was so moved because the astronaut was the person whom I was taking care of closely.

What type of education background is required?

Mr. Koyama: As I said before, what you need to do is to establish your own specialty. For example, Mr. Tsuruma was majoring in Urdu Language and Literature, which is totally different from aerospace, in his university. Someday in our future, human beings will be able to live in outer space, and we will bring everything like culture, technology, literature and law into space. Therefore, we need specialists from all kinds of fields to develop outer space. To build an international space station, we definitely need not only technology, but also culture to make the most of the station. JAXA, for instance, is collaborating with universities in order to research space development from cultural perspectives. We were in the era of launching space rockets, but now we are in a new era of developing space by using highly advanced technology. The United States is moving far ahead of Japan because American people study outer space from various viewpoints other than science, such as politics and economics. For example, there is the Space Policy Institute in The George Washington University.

Mr. Tsuruma: I would like to add to what Mr. Koyama said. Studying aerospace engineering and material engineering helps you to understand this field.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?

When you enter JAXA, the first thing you do is visit our Tanegashima Space Center and other field centers to understand what JAXA is doing. In my case, I was engaged in analysis of rocket simulation because I had studied mechanical engineering. One year after I entered the National Space Development Agency (NASADA), a predecessor of JAXA, I had the opportunity to visit the United States to train in computer software programs for innovated rocket technology.

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?

The salary of JAXA basically depends on the rules of National Personnel Authority of Japan.

What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?

As we have been saying, all you need to do is to establish your own specific field, because there is a necessity for a wide variety of human resources for space development. And also, flexibility to cope with unknown challenges in the aerospace industry is crucial. Above all, you need to have an adventurous spirit and always pursue your dream. Those are key points now that we Japanese need to improve in our own space projects, by following the Bush Administration's new space program.

Submitted by: Tomomasa Nagano, spring 2004 intern