To me, launching a space project doesn’t necessarily require an automotive company. What made you eager to team up with a car company for this project, and why did that have to be Toyota?
One reason is that, by bringing in automobile technology, I wanted to greatly raise the level of Japan’s space development technologies.
Another reason is that I wanted to make space development more accessible. Spaceships like this are one-of-a-kind, or at least very few in number. In terms of cars, they’re like supercars or F1 cars, really exceptional vehicles that involve much manual labor to build.
But only a select few people like Mr. Wakata can go to space. Instead, what we want to do is make outer space more accessible, where anyone can go. To make that happen, it is important to involve an automotive company like Toyota that is capable of producing large volumes of high-performance vehicles, while maintaining consistent quality at affordable prices.
In fact, it was met with various reactions within the company, from encouragement to questions about the business prospects, which were valid points. At that time, the person who had been my first supervisor upon joining the company just happened to be involved in the working group, and he suggested that I start the project off from the group and work with him, which I feel was a key factor.
And how did that lead to where you are now, being able to take it all the way up to Mr. Terashi, Toyota’s chief competitive officer? Was there something in particular that drove you?
Right now, the world’s space organizations operating the international space station have sights set on the Moon.
One reason for going to the Moon is that, although the final goal is Mars, the Moon actually contains water and ice, which can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. When you consider that, you have the potential to create more of a hydrogen society than here on Earth. One of Toyota’s strengths lies within its fuel cell technology, and I felt confident that this would become one story that we could really engage with.
Another reason was that, if Toyota didn’t do this, another manufacturer surely would. After all, the project was already there. Knowing that such a plan existed, being part of an automotive or mobility company, and having thought that we should do this, I felt that seeing another company’s vehicle on the Moon, for example – where I wasn’t involved – was something I would regret for the rest of my life. So that was the second reason – as an engineer, how could I disregard this chance, this engineer’s dream?
When I went to interview a TRI team member at their headquarters in Silicon Valley, I came across one unusual researcher. He is a Toyota employee, but when I asked where he had come from, he said ‘NASA’.
He told me that he had come to Toyota because NASA’s budget was too limited. When I asked if he was happy at Toyota, this researcher, Max, replied that his job was incredibly interesting because he had the freedom to research whatever he wanted.