Japan’s Professor Junichiro Kawaguchi is bringing an element of scientific stardom to ANU. Ellen Parsons writes.
Junichiro Kawaguchi isn’t only a superstar in the science world – he’s also a mainstream icon in the cultural zeitgeist. There has been a full length Hollywood feature film based on his work, starring Ken Watanabe as Kawaguchi, and Lego made a special edition figurine in his likeness.
Professor Kawaguchi has had a long and distinguished career in solar system
exploration, and he is the inaugural appointment within the new ANU Research School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Environmental Engineering as an Honorary Professor.
Born in 1955 in the small town of Hiroskai, in the far north of Japan’s Honshu Island, Kawaguchi graduated from Kyoto University before going on to complete his doctorate in Aeronautics at the University of Tokyo.
The film and Lego set are based on one of Professor Kawaguchi’s most notable achievements, as the Project Manager of the Hayabusa mission – a ground-breaking robotic spacecraft developed under the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The mission spanned from 1996 – 2011, during which time he orchestrated the successful touchdown of a robotic spacecraft onto a moving asteroid to bring samples back to earth. Hayabusa was launched in May 2003, and landed on the asteroid (named Itokawa) two years later in September 2005.
The mission was seminal in scientific and engineering advancement. It helped to bridge the gap between the ground observation of asteroids and lab analysis of meteorite fragments and cosmic dust. Before Hayabusa, it was extremely difficult for scientists to match the samples they had with the asteroid it came from.
Professor Kawaguchi firmly believes Australia will play a major part in discovering and bringing back samples from other celestial bodies, and is enthusiastic about being a part of ANU and building the capability of a new research school in aerospace engineering.
"I look forward to nurturing the next generation of space experts, as well as helping ANU initiate a wide range of space-related activities. "I am really excited about what astrobiology will reveal over the next 50 years. There should be direct evidence of life on the surface of Mars, or the icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn. It should be thrilling and it will make history," he says.