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This engineer designs a vehicle to inhabit the Moon


When Akane Imamura found a job for Ispace, she thought it was a hoax. The Tokyo startup was looking for an engineer to help develop a miniature moon vehicle and it seemed too good to be true. But the publication was in fact authentic, so he requested it. She joined the company in 2017 as an engineer of spacecraft structures.

At that time, Ispace was in the final stages of the competition for the Google Lunar X Award, which promised to award a total of 30 million dollars to lunar missions financed with private funds. That offer expired last year, none of the competitors arrived on the Moon in time, but thanks to the more than 90 million dollars that Ispace has raised funds and companies backed by the government of Japan, the start-up now points more high. Company is currently focusing on making lunar exploration a real business, first taking things in its mobile vehicles to customers and, finally, finding water on the lunar surface and converting that liquid into fuel. The team’s long-term goal is a habitable lunar colony by 2040.

The first step is the work that Imamura does: design a mobile vehicle that can successfully navigate the unique pitfalls of the lunar surface.

Imamura is the protagonist of the new installment of Next Jobs, a series of mini-documentaries by Bloomberg that describes the careers of the future. At Ispace, the 36-year-old woman is responsible for the structural elements of the mobile vehicle. That includes everything from the configuration of the wheels for the topography of the star to the choice of materials that can keep the machine strong and a maximum of 22 pounds (9.9 kilos), including any load. It is also helping to refine parts of the programmed landing module to take the two vehicles to their destination in 2021.

One of the biggest challenges of developing a vehicle destined to cross the Moon is that you can not really test it without launching it into space, which is usually prohibitively expensive. Recently, Imamura and his team got the next best option: the opportunity to perform a series of tests on a fake Moon. At the lunar simulation facility of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, opaque shades and spotlights simulate the harsh contrast of light and darkness on the Moon, it also has a giant space filled with sand that scientists believe resembles to the slippery floor of the satellite.

Imamura faced obstacles as an engineer in Japan, which ranked 110th in the gender disparities index of the World Economic Forum, which measures 149 countries. While struggling to balance a demanding career with the care of his daughter, Imamura considered leaving her job. Its success offers some hope that the country can change.