Getting humans to Mars is a massive undertaking, so NASA plans to test the required technology with missions much closer to home first. In 2019, an unmanned Orion capsule is due to do a lap of the Moon and return to Earth, in advance of a human crew making the trip from 2021. After that, NASA is planning to build a lunar space station called the Deep Space Gateway, designed to act as a hub to extend the reach of humanity further into space, including a manned mission to Mars.
By contributing towards this project, JAXA hopes to earn a place at the station, acting as a springboard for an eventual mission to send an astronaut to the lunar surface. Japanese national broadcaster NHK reported that JAXA expressed interest in the idea at an education ministry meeting on June 28.
Currently, Europe, China and Russia are planning manned Moon missions in the early 2030s, but if JAXA's plans get off the ground, Japanese astronauts could be the first to walk on the lunar surface in decades.
While the Japanese plans are still fairly unofficial at this stage, NHK believes that a more official proposal will be submitted next year.
Source: JAXA via NHK/New Atlas