The next time an H-IIB rocket launches from the island of Tanegashima in southern Japan, it will carry a cargo craft bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, weighs 10,500 kilograms (11.6 tons) and can carry about 6,000 kilograms (6.6 tons) worth of supplies for the astronauts aboard the ISS. This massive, cutting-edge spaceship plays an important role in the life of the orbiting station, but its development can be traced back to one man and one little object.
Hideo Itokawa planted the seeds of Japan’s space development with what many fondly referred to as a “pencil.” The engineering professor from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science had big dreams. Japan’s aerospace industry had been dismantled under the postwar U.S. occupation, but in the early 1950s, Itokawa wrote a newspaper article asking readers to imagine flying from Japan to the U.S. West Coast in only 20 minutes. The vehicle that would get them there? A rocket.