The Japanese and U.S. space agencies have agreed to step up collaboration in advancing human activities on the lunar surface as a way of realizing eventual human exploration of Mars.

Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, and James Bridenstine, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, reached the agreement during a recent meeting in Tokyo.

JAXA will extend technical cooperation on NASA's Gateway project to build a lunar orbiting space station, as well as the U.S. agency's Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, according to a joint statement signed by Yamakawa and Bridenstine.

(Image of NASA's Gateway lunar orbiting space station) [Image courtesy of NASA]

Bridenstine welcomed JAXA's proposal to extend habitation and logistics missions with the use of Japanese HTV-X spacecraft and H3 launch vehicles for the Gateway project.

The agency chiefs welcomed the planned launch of two JAXA-provided nanosatellites for an Artemis mission.

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They also discussed NASA's potential participation in a lunar polar exploration mission planned by JAXA and the Indian Space Research Organization.

"These cooperative activities will contribute to their respective lunar science and exploration priorities, and both leaders acknowledged that the acquired data from these missions will contribute to NASA's plan to return humans to the Moon in 2024," the statement said.

The last humans to walk on the Moon were American astronauts from the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

(Image of a lunar orbiting space station under NASA's Artemis program) [Image courtesy of NASA]