(Bloomberg) -- Two civilian recruits officially joined Japan’s space program Monday, injecting some much-needed youth into its ranks given the country’s six active astronauts have an average age of 52.

Ayu Yoneda, a 28-year-old surgeon with the Red Cross, will train for about two years before being considered for a mission to the lunar surface.

“I’ve been working to improve people’s lives in the field of medicine,” she said. “Now I’ll be tasked with doing so in space, where the goal is fundamentally similar, but exists under completely different circumstances.” 

Yoneda began training in April on how to use systems and software on the International Space Station. 

Makoto Suwa, 46, a senior employee for the World Bank, also began Monday. Both were selected from more than 4,100 applications and introduced to the public by JAXA in February.

It’s been 14 years since Japan last recruited candidates for space travel. Since the compulsory retirement age is 60, JAXA is concerned it will start running out of astronauts. 

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida greeted Yoneda and Suwa at his office in Tokyo, where he congratulated them and stressed the importance of innovation and regaining the nation’s status as a leader in technology.

With two failed attempts to launch its new flagship rocket — the H3, designed and built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. — Japan hasn’t had much luck this year in its efforts to claim its stake in the rapidly growing commercial space industry. JAXA has said it will attempt another H3 launch this year. 

US President Joe Biden and Kishida said last year that an astronaut from Japan would take part in the Artemis program, a lunar exploration project led by NASA along with JAXA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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