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NEWS | Dec. 13, 2021

USAG Japan Commander Invited to View Rare Asteroid Samples at Sagamihara Museum

By Noriko Kudo

CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- The commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan was invited to visit one of Sagamihara City’s premier museums for the rare opportunity to view asteroid samples brought back during the six-year “Hayabusa2” mission.

Escorting Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson and his wife, Amaya, during their Dec. 8 visit to the Sagamihara City Museum next to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, which is located near Camp Zama, was Sagamihara City Mayor Kentaro Motomura.

Motomura said he invited the Tomlinsons to the museum on behalf of the city during JAXA’s special weeklong exhibition there, during which the museum had on display samples from the asteroid “Ryugu,” from which the spacecraft Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2 collected and returned to Earth in 2020. The mission had great support from the citizens of Sagamihara, Motomura said.

The museum and the JAXA campus and research center are located on land that the U.S. military returned to Japan in 1974. Therefore, having the commander of USAG Japan and his wife visit the exhibit was a great opportunity to not only share a significant cultural aspect of the city, but also to show the beneficial way in which the city is utilizing the land, Motomura said.

“USAG Japan and Sagamihara City have been building a deep bond over the course of many commanders and mayors before Colonel Tomlinson and myself, and I am certain that bond will continue on to the next generation,” Motomura said.

Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director general of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at JAXA, who guided the Tomlinsons on their tour, admitted the samples on display may have looked like “regular black pebbles,” but he asked them to imagine the story behind how they arrived there. Until three years ago, Fujimoto told them, those samples were sitting on the surface of an asteroid jetting through outer space, and it took the teamwork of many people to bring them back to Earth.

“If you look at [the samples] through scientific eyes, they tell us a lot about our orbital solar system,” Fujimoto said.

Tomlinson called the tour “exceptional” and thanked Motomura, Fujimoto and JAXA for allowing him and his wife the opportunity to view such a rare exhibit at a museum that sits on a “pretty significant piece of real estate.”

Fujimoto explained to Tomlinson that efforts like the Hayabusa2 mission are made possible by a valuable alliance between NASA and JAXA.

“I think it’s a testimony to the alliance, both from Japan as well as the United States, to come together and experience this level of technology,” Tomlinson said.

“We try to stress science and technology inside of our schools,” Tomlinson added. “What a great example of stirring [an interest in] science and technology in our community, especially in our [educational system].”

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