Big in Japan: Origami planes to be launched into outer space

Origami is awesome!

(If you agree with me, then you’ll love today’s posting!)

My obsession with all things Japanese started at a young when I started folding paper cranes out of notebook pages instead of paying attention in class.

Known as origami (????????, paper-folding), this ancient Japanese art seeks to transform a piece of paper into a 3-dimensional object, preferably without cutting or gluing.

So, while my teachers may have thought that I was goofing off, I was actually practicing a centuries’ old art form that dates back to the Japanese Edo period.

Anyway, according to The Times of London, origami is about to be taken into the final frontier, namely outer space.


In a bold attempt to bring increased global attention to this slowly dying art form (as well as the slowly dying Japanese conventional space program!), Japan plans to release a huge squadron of paper airplanes into the stratosphere.

Seriously – I’m not making this up!

These experimental origami space shuttles, which are estimated to number in the hundreds, will be launched into the heavens later this year.

Upon being released, they will be captured by the Earth’s gravitational pull, and glide down towards the surface like kamikaze bombers from the stars.

Keep reading…it gets even cooler!

The man behind the madness is Shinichi Suzuki, a professor at the extremely prestigious University of Tokyo (東京大学), which is something akin to the Harvard of Japan.

According to Professor Suzuki, astronomers will be given plenty of warning of the planes’ descents as he believes it will take several months for the space armada to glide from the upper atmosphere to the planet’s surface.

If successful, the planes would qualify for the longest ever flight by a paper plane!

If successful, each plane’s journey will have been around 250 miles or 400km!

So, how does one exactly fold origami planes capable of travelling hundreds of miles through the earth’s atmosphere without burning up into huge fire balls??

Good question!

First of all, the paper aircraft will be constructed from a special heat-proofed paper able to withstand the intense heat that stellar objects experience when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

And, the paper will also be chemically fortified to survive the enormous speeds that the planes will be travelling at during descent.

According to Professor Suzuki, the origami planes will each measure around 8 inches (20 cm), and weigh just one ounce (30 grams).

This compact size will enable them to be hurled into space by Japanese astronauts when they visit the International Space Station later this summer.

So, do we have to worry about being pelted from above by kamikaze origami? Most likely not.

Assuming the planes don’t disintegrate, they will probably splashdown in the deep ocean, much like the early Apollo space missions.

However, if one floats down to solid ground, the lucky finder can actually unfold the plane and discover the return address of the Japan Space Agency!

Just ask Professor Suzuki…

“It’s going to be the space version of a message in a bottle. It will be great if someone picks one up. We are thinking of writing messages on the planes saying ‘if found, please contact us’ in a couple of languages.”

Gotta’ love the Japanese!

** All of the photos in this article were taken by Kiyoshi Ota of the Asia division of Reuters News. They were originally published in The Times. **