Int'l ministerial confab on space exploration to convene in Jan.

The United States will host an international conference on future space exploration with ministerial-level delegates from some 40 countries plus the European Union on Jan. 9 in Washington, a source close to Japan-U.S. relations said Saturday.

The multilateral conference, the first of this kind hosted by the U.S. government, will be held at the State Department. A second session of the confab will likely be convened in Japan in 2016, the source said.

The confab, which will also be attended by the Paris-based European Space Agency, will discuss international cooperation in future space exploration, including possible voyages to Mars and other planets.

The United States is keen on leading international efforts in the field, including participation by Japan, in light of the Chinese government's plans to build its own space station in the not-so-distant future, the source said.

The United States will invite China, Russia and the European Union to send ministerial-level representatives to the conference, the source also said.

The conference will highlight the importance of expediting international cooperation in manned and unmanned space exploration.

Delegates are expected to discuss how to push multilateral collaboration by building on the current cooperation over the International Space Station among Japan, Canada, Russia, the European Union and the United States. They will also discuss how to optimize use of the ISS, which is to be operated at least until 2020, the source said.