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Let’s go to the museum / Launch yourself into space from Tsukuba

Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

An H-2 rocket displayed at the Rocket Square outside the Space Dome. A smaller booster rocket is seen next to it.

By Yusuke Sano / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer“Star Wars” and “Space Brothers” are among the many pop culture works that feature space, reflecting people’s feelings of romanticism when it comes to the universe.

The Tsukuba Space Center of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, is a core facility for the country’s space development and a great place for space lovers.

At about 530,000 square meters, the center features areas such as the Astronaut Training Facility.

The Space Dome, which opened in 2010, comprehensively introduces how satellites and rockets work and their history through permanent and special exhibitions.

First, take a look at Rocket Square outside the dome, where an H-2 rocket is displayed. The H-2, the country’s first fully domestically produced rocket, carried the geostationary meteorological satellite Himawari-5 and other objects into space.

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  • Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A full-size replica of the International Space Station’s Japanese experiment module Kibo

  • Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A test model of the H-2 Transfer Vehicle Kounotori

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

The rocket, 50 meters long and four meters in diameter, is not a replica — it was assembled using a test body used when the rocket was developed, and other parts. Even adults will delight in seeing it. The square is also the best spot for a picture.

A one-millionth scale model of the Earth welcomes visitors to the Space Dome. In the middle of the dome there is a full-size replica of the Japanese experiment module Kibo, part of the International Space Station.

Kibo’s on-board experiment facility is cylindrical, at 11.2 meters long and 4.4 meters in diameter. The voice of Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata communicating with the Tsukuba Space Center fills the module, making visitors feel as though they have been launched into space.

Devices and equipment covering the walls, such as a robotic arm, are arranged just as they are in the actual module.

Along with the replica module in the dome, the test model of the H-2 Transfer Vehicle Kounotori, which carries supplies to the ISS, is visually appealing, and the one-twentieth scale models of Japanese rockets ranging from the currently active H-2A to the H-3 rocket now under development are spectacular.

A shop in a separate building sells ice cream that is not cold. It was made the same way as meals served aboard the ISS, allowing visitors to enjoy a “taste of space.”

In February, a U.S.-based company announced plans to enable space tourism as early as next year.

Come and experience the vastness of space close at hand while learning about the history of JAXA.

■ Tsukuba Space Center’s Space Dome

The Space Dome is a popular facility visited by about 300,000 people a year. It exhibits about 30 items, including test models and mockups of satellites and rockets. The Tsukuba Space Center opened in 1972 and has special openings of the Kibo Flight Control Room and the Astronaut Training Facility every year.

Address: 2-1-1 Sengen, Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture

Open: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. No holidays, in principle, excluding the year-end and New Year holidays (irregularly closed on Mondays)

Admission: Free. (Fee-based guides are available, reservation is required)

Inquiry: (029) 868-2023 (10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

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