Locals on the Tanegashima island have been watching rockets soar across the skies above them for more than 50 years.
Surrounded by emerald green waters and lush green mountains, the island is home to the Tanegashima Space Centre, which is nestled in the heart of mother nature.
So, when a 53-metre-tall rocket blasts off from the site, it’s a stellar view.
The picturesque location also helps attract hundreds of tourists from all over the world.
I visited the island in December to mark it off my bucket list and had hoped to go again to cover the launch of UAE’s Mars Hope spacecraft, but Covid-19 travel restrictions didn’t allow it.
The 33,000 inhabitants in Tanegashima, however, have the chance to witness the first Arab interplanetary mission taking off.
Even though local authorities have closed public viewing events because of the virus, the rocket can still be seen from miles away on the 444.99km2-large island.
With 175 launches since 1968, space has become sort of a lifestyle for the natives.
They are planning their own gathering with friends and families to watch another UAE spacecraft lift off from their island. The first one was a satellite, KhalifaSat, in 2018.
Kazumichi Takai, 54, manages a drone company and watches every launch.
“I’m glad the UAE chose a Japanese rocket for the launch. We’ll be watching from a distance,” he said.
Kaori Habu, 43, was born and raised on the island and looks forward to lift-offs that take place in the evening and illuminate the sky.
The Hope spacecraft will be taking off at 12.51am (UAE time) – 6.51am in Tanegashima – on July 15 if there are no delays because of the unstable weather caused by the ongoing rain season.
The Japanese H-IIA rocket, a product of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, will be delivering the craft outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
“We are grateful that many countries are launching from Tanegashima,” said Ms Habu, who works as an administrator.
“People will get to know our island because of the rocket launches.”
One woman in Tanegashima, Reiko Kawagoe, 44, was so inspired with space, she created her own brand of space food for astronauts.
She is in talks with Japan’s space agency Jaxa to make her product available to Japanese astronauts.
“I made spicy Indian curry for the astronauts, using the items we grow here on the island, such as brown sugar, sea salt and chicken,” said Ms Kawagoe, who works as a part time yoga instructor.
“It is exciting to see countries in the Middle East also getting involved in space.”
For tourists, the experience on rocket island is exemplary even if there is no launch scheduled.
During my visit, it became obvious that there was a recurring space-theme throughout.
The water bottles in Tanegashima have plastic wrappers that have images of astronauts and rockets.
Most of the hotels have framed photos on the walls of previous rocket launches.
The space centre is the most recommended tourist spot and there’s a free tour around the site and in the exhibition for visitors. Though, it has been suspended due to recent events.
Tourists can purchase souvenirs from there, such as model rockets and space food. I couldn’t walk away without buying the takoyaki – a dehydrated version of a Japanese cuisine (octopus dumplings) that is prepared for astronauts.
As you drive around the island, you see model rockets installed in different locations.
Like most rocket launching islands or deserts, Tanegashima is also a complicated place to travel to.
I took a flight from Dubai to Osaka, then to Kagoshima and then Tanegashima. From the airport, it’s a 20 to 25-minute drive to the space centre, as it’s on the very south side of the island.
For those who would like to watch UAE's upcoming mission to Mars launch, a live stream is available here.