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Japanese rocket launches manga drawings and weather satellite into orbit

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully delivered a weather satellite into geostationary orbit today. But, for kids across Japan, the main attraction wasn’t the satellite or even the rocket — it was the artwork on board.

Pasted near the upper half of the H-IIA rocket were two manga drawings created with the help of kids across the country. The rocket art project was organized by Young Astronauts Club Japan, an organization that seeks to encourage children to marvel at space.

The pieces were originally drawn by famous manga artist Chuya Toyama, creator of the Space Brothers series. The rocket art project was intended to inspire youngsters to explore outer space, just like the brothers who aspire to become astronauts.

Although the pieces depict drawings made by Toyama, the two images were created by making a collage of 30,000 digital photographs submitted by kids in Japan, according to Hirokazu Kosada of Young Astronauts Club Japan. “We believe it’s the first time in the world to launch a rocket with manga art on it.” he told Agence France-Presse. “We wanted children in Japan to be interested in space and the weather.”

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After a 24-hour rain delay, the H-IIA rocket launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan’s Osumi Islands at 6:20 a.m. local time. The Himawari 9 satellite is the second of two third-generation weather satellites and the ninth weather observatory sent into orbit by JAXA since the Himarwari (sunflower) series of satellites first began in 1977. During its eight-year operational period, Himawari 9 will collect atmospheric data to help scientists study weather patterns and the environment. The satellite joins Himawari 8, which has been providing forecasters from India and Australia with valuable data since it launched in early 2015.