Photo/IllutrationYoshiyuki Tomino, chief director of “Mobile Suit Gundam” animation, right, and Koji Murofushi, sports director of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, left, at a news conference for the satellite project on May 15 (Kazutaka Eguchi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Plastic figurines of characters from the hit "Mobile Suit Gundam" anime series will be shot into space next spring where they will "cheer on" the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with messages of support.

And who is charged with this special mission? None other than pilot Amuro Ray and his nemesis Char's Zaku.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the University of Tokyo and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the project on May 15.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Toru Furuya, a voice actor for Amuro Ray in the Gundam animation, declared, "Gundam, launching for Tokyo 2020."

The two figurines, which will be stored inside the "Satellite to Cheer on the Olympics," will be coated in special paint to survive conditions in space.

The satellite, which is 10 centimeters by 10 cm by 30 cm, will be launched aboard a spacecraft toward the International Space Station (ISS) around next March and after arrival will be released into space.

Once the satellite is in orbit, the "cockpit" will open and the two figures will emerge.

With the satellite rotating Earth at a speed of 8 kilometers per second, the figurines will offer messages of support via an electric bulletin attached to their feet in addition to audio messages. The characters will also provide videos and images taken from seven cameras installed on the satellite.

As the Gundam animation is set in outer space, it will be the first time for Gundam to be in space in the real world, which is sure to please fans. Yoshiyuki Tomino, an original animator of "Mobile Suit Gundam," said "Imagining space concretely is not a fantasy anymore."

A fan of Gundam himself, Haruka Amano, 48, who works in the Innovation Promotion Office of the Organizing Committee, came up with the idea in May last year.

In past Olympics, astronauts sent messages of support from the ISS, while the first such activity outside the space station was by a Russian astronaut who brought out a flameless Olympic Torch for the 2014 Sochi Games.

"I wanted to raise the bar," Amano said, on coming up with the Gundam idea.

However, a large company he approached told him that the project would require "four years and 1 billion yen ($9 million).”

Not giving up, Amano scoured the Internet with keywords such as "small satellite" and in July found Shinichi Nakasuka, 58, a University of Tokyo professor.

Nakasuka--also a Gundam fan--is a specialist who has launched nine microsatellites, including a 1-kilogram satellite for the first time in the world in 2003. While it normally takes him 10 months to make a microsatellite, he reduced the schedule to half a year for delivery this October. He also reduced the budget to several tens of million yen.

When asked about his participation in putting Gundam characters into orbit, he said, "While there was a lot of pressure, it is very exciting."

Bringing the subculture of Japanese animation to the forefront for the project, Amano said: "I want to break the stereotype of Japanese people as too serious, uninteresting or samurai-like. I want to show that Japanese can do amazing things full of dreams and romance."