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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, February, 2013

Last Updated: April 23, 2013

This is JAXA's Japanese astronaut primary activity report for February, 2013.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata undergoes training for a long-duration ISS mission

Koichi Wakata, assigned as a crew member for the Expedition 38/39 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), underwent training for a long-duration mission at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) at the beginning of February, then at the Tsukuba Science Center (TKSC) in the second half of the month.

At the GCTC, Wakata was trained to operate the Soyuz spacecraft and the Russian segment of the ISS. Aboard the Soyuz spacecraft simulator, Wakata and his crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Turin and NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio, simulated approach and docking to the ISS and return to Earth. In addition, they confirmed emergency procedures for each operational stage.

The trio also underwent training in preparation for any emergencies that may occur during their stay on the ISS. They experienced actual depressurization in both the simulator for the Russian segment and that of the Soyuz spacecraft that is docked to the ISS and responded to this according to the Operation Data File (ODF).

On top of the training with his crewmates, as part of support for Russian Extravehicular Activity (EVA), Wakata learned how to adjust the pressure in the Pirs Docking Compartment (DC-1) which is the ingress and egress path for Russian EVA in the Russian segment.

During his stay in Russia, Wakata visited "Zvezda", the manufacturer of Sokol spacesuits, for a fitting of the spacesuit to be worn during the Soyuz flight. Wearing the pressurized suit, Wakata sat on a seat to see if the suit would fit when aboard the Soyuz spacecraft.

Wakata is trained with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg (a 35S crew member) for the experiment to be performed on Kibo (Photograph: JAXA)

Wakata is trained with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg (a 35S crew member) for the experiment to be performed on Kibo (Photograph: JAXA)

At the TKSC, Wakata was trained to operate the Japanese Experiment Module, Kibo, and the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) KOUNOTORI with the prime crew members of the Soyuz TMA-09M (35S) spacecraft, as he is also assigned as a backup member for the 35S crew.

Training for Kibo included system operations and experiments planned during the 35S crew members' stay on the ISS.

He practiced operations specific to the mission and reviewed the techniques and knowledge required for a Kibo Specialist.

During the training for the experiments on Kibo, Wakata learned not only preparatory and post-experiment crew tasks, but also listened to an overview and an explanation of the purpose of the experiments from the Principal Investigators (PI) for each experiment.

For KOUNOTORI, Wakata learned the basics including an overview of the system and operations, as well as onboard crew tasks while berthed to the ISS.

Astronaut Kimiya Yui starts training in Russia

Yui appearing in front of Russian officials at the beginning of training at the GCTC (Photograph: JAXA/GCTC)

Yui appearing in front of Russian officials at the beginning of training at the GCTC (Photograph: JAXA/GCTC)

Kimiya Yui, assigned as a crew member for the ISS Expedition 44/45 mission, underwent training for the Soyuz spacecraft at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).

Yui studied the Soyuz flight operation procedures for various flight scenarios as well as equipment layout, names, function, and operation in the spacecraft. He attended lectures on overall systems for Soyuz and the functions and operation of the control panel. Using the simulator, he performed and checked actual operations learned during the lectures.

This is the first time that Yui has trained at the GCTC. He is also assigned as one of the backup crew members for the ISS Expedition 42/43 mission. During the preparation for his assigned missions, Yui will visit Russia frequently for training for the Soyuz and the Russian segment of the ISS.

Astronaut Takuya Onishi enrolls in an intensive Russian language program

From early February, Takuya Onishi travelled to Russia and enrolled in an intensive Russian language program lasting about a month and a half.

In addition to learning the Russian language, this program is also intended to acquaint students with Russian culture to ensure smooth communication with Russian cosmonauts on future ISS expedition missions.

During the language training, Onishi immersed himself in an environment in which he could experience Russian customs and understand how Russian people think in real life as well as understanding the differences between Russia and Japan in order to cultivate a better understanding of Russia.

Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide returns to Japan for the first time after his long-duration ISS expedition mission

Hoshide speaks to the press (Photograph: JAXA)

Hoshide speaks to the press (Photograph: JAXA)

Mission report on February 21 (Photograph: JAXA)

Mission report on February 21 (Photograph: JAXA)

Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide returned to Japan for the first time since completing his mission as a member of the ISS Expedition 32/33 crew.

Soon after his return on February 13, Hoshide held a press conference at the JAXA Tokyo Office. He gave a presentation on his activities during the mission to members of the press and answered their questions.

Afterwards, he traveled all over the country to give reports about his mission to the general public, including a gathering held by JAXA in Tokyo on February 21.

Hoshide also attended a debriefing session and discussed the details of the mission with the relevant instructors and the JAXA Flight Control Team (JFCT).

Astronaut Chiaki Mukai participates in Mission X event

Live link with the Netherlands (Photograph: JAXA)

Live link with the Netherlands (Photograph: JAXA)

On February 8, an event called "Mission X" was held at the Tokyo Women's Plaza involving astronaut Chiaki Mukai and the Netherlands Space Office (NSO).

Mission X is an educational activity that promotes a healthy society through food and fitness in which many space agencies participate. A common global program has been designed for children aged 8-12 modeling actual astronaut health training programs to help them learn the importance of nutrition and regular exercise.

This event was organized with the cooperation of the NSO, which is also a participating Mission X agency. During the live link with the Netherlands, participating children communicated with the ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers and the participating Dutch children. During the event, pupils tried out the astronauts' fitness program, and Chiaki Mukai held a session to clearly explain to the children the changes that occur to a human body in space.

Mukai answers questions from the children (Photograph: JAXA)

Mukai answers questions from the children (Photograph: JAXA)

A Q&A session was held at the end of the event. Mukai answered various questions about space such as "do the stars look different when you see them from the Earth and from space?" as well as questions about her opinions such as "how do you tackle things you are not good at?"

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

Training in the city of stars finally began this month.

I had been studying the Russian language, culture and history for this purpose... the results?

In terms of the language, I was still out of my depth! To be honest, I don't think I was serious enough in my efforts when I first started to learn Russian. I started to learn Russian seriously a year ago when I went to Russia for the first time. Still, I studied for several hours almost every day and became able to engage in every day conversation without too much trouble. Above all, I tried to be become familiar with and live in Russia and I was able to live very comfortably without caring too much about the chill of the winter!


The Russian winter is very cold, but I like it. Experiencing this cold, I feel I can understand the culture and history of Russia.

Naturally, Russians care for people who like Russia. For example, when I was spoken to in English at the airport and I responded in Russian, the expression of the Russians changed completely and they became very kind. This is similar to Japan where Japanese who speak to foreigners assuming they can only understand English are happy when they hear a response in Japanese. One of the things I realized during my stay in Russia is that living abroad is much more comfortable if you observe the etiquette of studying the language, culture and history of that country.

On the other hand, I felt bad that there are many Japanese who do not know about how well the Russians treat Japanese people. There does not seem to be that much positive information about Russia in Japan. Why is that? I felt very embarrassed to learn this fact recently.

How would you feel about a country in which there was little positive information about Japan that disliked Japan? Would you come to like this country? It's a little difficult isn't it?

In spite of the situation that many Japanese do not know the current Russia, many Russians are extremely friendly to Japanese people. I think that it would be polite to ensure we Japanese do not betray this favor. I want the people of Japan to be polite internationally as well.

Anyhow, I digress and will now return to the story of the Soyuz training.

Soyuz training in Russia was very enjoyable! Although there were eight hours of lectures each day, which necessitated a similar time to be devoted to preparation and review, it was really fun. I enjoyed studying hard and was earnestly supported by the instructors and examiners. Just as I often talk about in my lectures, I find relationships are like a mirror - as long as you hold a positive attitude and treat others well, you will often receive the same treatment in return.

So, how was I able to enjoy Soyuz training? Because I have a dream: "In the future, I want to go into space on a Japanese manned spacecraft." Japan's decision to develop manned spacecraft in the near future necessitated people to be involved in the development and testing of the spacecraft. For me, studying is fun, as I want to acquire the ability to allow me to be involved in this development. Unfortunately, the environment surrounding manned space development in Japan is becoming increasingly challenging. Still, I believe I have a role to play to ensure that there is not a lack of personnel necessary for the development of spacecraft in Japan when the situation has improved. I will continue to work hard in the future so I can work with pride as a test pilot of Japan. Thank you for your support!

Soyuz simulator training: While the lectures were fun, I felt the most enjoyment while actually operating something. It must be because I used to be a pilot.

* Photograph: Supplied by JAXA/GCTC

Hi everybody, it has been a while! There was no column last month as I was busy with major training which has continued since the beginning of the year. I undertook "Kibo" and "Konotori" training in Japan for three weeks in January, returned to Houston for a week, spent six weeks in Moscow for immersive Russian language training, and have now just returned to Houston again.

It is March 20 as I write this column and I've hardly spent any time at my home since the start of the year. So, this month and next month I would like to write about my immersive Russian language training. I would also like to digress a little.

This training, in keeping with its "immersive" title, consisted of six weeks of intensive study of the Russian language, culture and the people who live in Russia.

My basic daily schedule was one-to-one tuition for four hours from 9am to 1pm followed by Russian cultural experience programs (three days each week) or self-study (two days each week) in the afternoons.

There was a lot of homework and I studied until late at night after returning home; it was as though I returned to the examination cramming lifestyle for six weeks.

The human learning growth curve is interesting; in most cases we first absorb new knowledge like crazy and then gradually slow down.

Likewise, I was able to learn more and more new Russian words during the first week of this training, but learning became extremely difficult as the days passed.

It seemed as though the words I had learned spilled from my ear if I tilted by head slightly or each new word I learned made an old word disappear... perhaps it is because of my age. Having said that, Aburai-san might get angry with me and think "if you're saying that, then what about me!?"

I was attacked by a realization that it is as if our human brains have a determined memory capacity like a hard disk and, once full, old information is overwritten by new information. Is our memory capacity really limited?

I never want to believe such a thing.

I believe we improve if we continue to make a steady effort, just as drops of water drop into a puddle one by one turning it into a lake and, before long, an ocean.

Sorry, I've already digressed.

All in all, the six weeks of intensive Russian study were valuable. Although my efficiency in remembering new words decreased during such focused study, I gradually began to see certain words and expressions appear over and over again.

These words were easy-to-use and important words and I felt as though my growth curve gained a little momentum once I became conscious of concentrating on remembering such words in the second half of the six-week program.

As with any training, it might be important to create your own twist on things.

I was taught by three teachers who alternated over the six weeks. All teachers were very passionate and seemed to become more and more enthusiastic the harder I studied.

The word "teacher" is written in Russian as учитель, and adding a single character at the beginning creates the word мучитель, which refers to a person who tortures or torments others. Thus, my teacher told me that the phrase "учитель мучитель" (a teacher who tortures or torments students) is often said as a joke in Russia.

It seems like a phrase Kinpachi Sensei might write on the blackboard.

I've gone off topic again!

I decided to write about the metropolis of Moscow and titled this month's column "The Moscow Metropolis"; however at this rate I don't know if I'll ever make it to the topic at hand. There are many stories I want to write and, at this rate, my column might turn into an intensive serial publication.

I like to read books of Mr. Ryotaro Shiba and I feel like I now understand the feeling of bringing up a story not related to the main plot which can be found in each one of his works.

So, I wrote earlier that I studied until late at night after returning home. Those with good intuition may have realized that I actually stayed at the home of an ordinary Russian family during my six weeks of intensive study rather than at a hotel. It was the first time I had experienced a homestay since I went to Canada in the first year of high school.

At first I was very nervous, but the kindness of my host family allowed me to enjoy a comfortable time. And, after all, Russian home cooking is delicious! In general I think that it is suited to Japanese tastes.

The grandmother and grandfather lived together with my host family and the grandmother, in particular, liked to talk a lot and told various stories about the former Soviet Union.

More than anything, being able to glimpse into the life of the Russian people was very interesting. Three Russian astronauts make up half of the current six-person crew at the International Space Station and I think my homestay experience will be a big help in understanding their culture and lifestyle.

To give an example, my Russian teacher in Houston told me that lunch is the main meal of the day in Russia. Of course, this is not always the case for people who work during the day, etc. and people generally eat lunch at a much later time than people in Japan.

For instance, I enjoyed a hearty meal after I finished my morning classes and returned home about 3pm and only snacked on side dishes such as bread, etc. at night.

It is like the Japanese position of lunch and dinner has been swapped.

As my body has been accustomed to eating dinner as the main meal since I was born, this Russian style of eating caused me to become hungry while studying at night.

I had no option but to ask my host family to provide me with an evening meal.

They might just be simple eating habits, but they can not be disregarded.

When living together with people who grew up in a different culture, it seems as though it is necessary to realize that your standards are only good for yourself and that the standards of the people you live with may be far apart from your own. I don't think that one standard in particular is correct, but rather I believe that a mutual respect for each other's standards is necessary.

Click here for the flyer (PDF)

Click here for the flyer (PDF)

I've written quite a lot, so I think I'll leave it here for this month. I'll write more about my immersive Russian language training next month.

To end with, I'd like to share some news. I will be participating in the Tsukuba Space Center special open house on April 20! I'm looking forward to be able to talk with many people.

Hello everyone! I am continuing astronaut training in Houston, U.S.A. No longer is almost every day packed with pre-certification candidate training classes; my days now consist of language study, spacewalk training wearing a spacesuit in a huge swimming pool called an NBL, and weekly rides in a T-38 jet trainer.

What I felt training in the U.S. was the incredible budgeting. A language lab in which many instructors reside has been created inside the Space Center, a full-scale space station model is submerged in a giant pool and training conducted with participants wearing spacesuits modified for underwater usage, and astronaut training is also conducted using multiple jets which are used for training in the army.

I wanted to write about my training in Japan in my previous column, but got sidetracked. So I will try to write about it in this column.

Japan must provide space station training ("Kibo" [Japanese experiment module] and "Konotori" [resupply spacecraft] training) to astronauts from around the world as part of its responsibility to play a role in the International Space Station Program.

However, Japan does not have the enormous budget and cannot freely use such superb facilities and equipment like NASA. In addition, rather than simply training Japanese astronauts, Japan must create an environment where astronauts from around the world, with their own unique culture, language and customs, etc., can come to Japan and focus on training as much as possible.

I myself went to Tsukuba to receive training; however I think those conducting the training must experience various hardships and difficulties or, alternatively, have some kind of device to handle training.

As an astronaut, I don't claim to know all the struggles and ingenuity of the trainers, but I would like to introduce an impressive experience during this training as an example.

If it is possible to train astronauts using the exact same machinery and equipment as used in the Space Station, there is nothing better. However, as the machinery and equipment used in space are special order products and have to clear various safety screening criteria for use in the Space Station, it is very expensive to create replicas for training purposes.

The ultimate mock up used in training in Japan is shown in photo #1. It is a 1/2 paper model hand made by the instructor. I was a little impressed with the Japanese-like origami culture. The training utilizing this device, while it does not simulate the real thing anywhere near as closely as a replica, involves replacing the two gray boxes you can see in the photograph. The three-dimensional angle does not allow for simple straight insertion; that is the point of the training.

Photo #1: The grey box to be exchanged is slightly visible within the device made of white paper. It must be exchanged with the new box resting on top of the device, however the angles are subtle and skilful insertion is not possible without practice.

Photo #1: The grey box to be exchanged is slightly visible within the device made of white paper. It must be exchanged with the new box resting on top of the device, however the angles are subtle and skilful insertion is not possible without practice.

If this training was organized by NASA, it would probably be carried out utilizing a full-scale, realistic mock-up. However, it is difficult to delicately insert a heavy metal box at an angle in a gravity environment and, if done poorly, there may be a risk of injury and breakage of the mock-up.

But, if the mock-up is small and made of paper, aspiring astronauts can practice repeatedly while easily changing the angle and there is no need to worry about injury or breaking the mock up. Students can imagine the difference between the mock-up and the real thing as they are shown photographs of the real thing that was launched into the Space Station as well as spare parts which are carefully stored at the Tsukuba Space Center.

This is just an example, and of course, not all the mock-ups in the Tsukuba Space Center are handmade paper training equipment. In fact, Tsukuba Space Center is the only place in the world home to a full-scale "Kibo" mock-up. So, there is no need to worry as extremely accurate and expensive simulators are utilized in areas of "Kibo" training where the use of highly-realistic equipment is optimal, such as training with respect to the airlock and robotic arms equipped on "Kibo".

However, I think this example of the paper mock-up is a good representation of the skilful small-scale training method unique to Japan which differs from the training methods in the U.S.A.

The difference in language is also a disadvantage for Japan.

English is the language used in training (training is conducted in Japanese if all participants are Japanese, but such situations are rare). Although the accredited instructors are, of course, fluent in English, it is not their mother tongue, and there are differences in subtle nuances and the usage of words between each country. In addition, as Russian and European astronauts are not native English speakers, I guess ensuring they acquire a good understanding of the training content is more difficult than I imagine.

Training at the Tsukuba Space Center does not only revolve around verbal descriptions. Explanations are provided using photo and video, handmade mock-ups are prepared (albeit with a low-degree of realism) and students form an image of actually working on the space station (photo #2). In addition, computer-generated virtual reality videos are used to make students feel as though they are actually aboard the "Kibo" or "Konotori". I was impressed with how the training at the Tsukuba Space Center turned the language handicap into a strength of Japan through the "presentation of material easier to understand intuitively".

Photo #2: Konotori interior simulator for emergency fire extinguisher mounting. The fire extinguisher tends to get stuck when being removed, so it is necessary to store and remove it at a slight angle. Simulation using a mock-up the same size as the actual thing is more effective than detailed English explanation to instantly convince students of this.

Photo #2: "Konotori" interior simulator for emergency fire extinguisher mounting. The fire extinguisher tends to get stuck when being removed, so it is necessary to store and remove it at a slight angle. Simulation using a mock-up the same size as the actual thing is more effective than detailed English explanation to instantly convince students of this.

Going slightly off topic, the video materials used in training are used as reference materials during actual work on the space station. The video material prepared by Japan has been praised for its quality by the mission crew. This strength distinguishes Japan from the other countries participating in the International Space Station Program.

By the way, it is not only astronauts who attend training to learn. Licensed physicians who do not learn various methods of surgery from their seniors cannot become full-fledged surgeons. In addition, JAXA engineers are attentively tutored by their seniors and, little by little, learn about the technology and expertise which will allow them to play a role in actual projects.

Studying for a driving license at driving school seems to be the same. Even study at a school is the same in terms of "being taught" and "learning."

Anyone can quickly understand the position of the learner, but it may be hard to focus on the hardships and know-how of the teacher.

More than 10 years have passed since astronauts began to stay on the International Space Station and the reality of humans living in space is now taken for granted. However, human activity in space, devoid of water and air, remains fraught with extreme risk as it has done since the initial days of space exploration.

As a single mistake can lead to mission failure or can on occasion significantly endanger lives and the spacecraft, ensuring the astronauts gain an accurate understanding of the training content and acquire the relevant knowledge and skills is an extremely significant proposition.

The "teaching" know-how that is cultivated in astronaut training can be applied to fields other than the field of space exploration and can be considered a spin-off (to be used in other technical fields).

How can techniques be learnt in a short period of time with little effort? How can these learned techniques be applied effectively? How can we avoid mistakes during actual operations? etc. These "tips" may seem insignificant, however they are considered very useful and can be effectively applied in any way in the medical world, the field of technical development, or even the fields of school education and business, for example.

This kind of invisible information and knowledge should not only be information and knowledge related to education and training. We utilize the knowledge and know-how from other fields in the field of space and aerospace industry experience and knowledge is utilized in other industries. It will be good if such opportunities for exchange gradually increase in the future  we must do our best to make this happen.

Experiencing Japanese "Kibo" training, I became keenly aware that each small ingenuity has lead to Japan's world-leading uniqueness.

* Photographs: Supplied by JAXA

This column, which introduces the people who support astronauts, has not appeared for a long time, but this month we introduce Mr. Takefumi Wakamatsu, who has appeared in this column before.

Mr. Wakamatsu

I am Takefumi Wakamatsu. I was in charge of astronaut candidate selection and was responsible for basic training session support for astronauts Yui, Onishi, and Kanai.

If you read "New Astronauts at the Front Line," you will be able to get a feel for their personalities and thoughts as well as their activities. I would like you to become more familiar with them, so if I were to express their relationship in one word, I would say that "space-brothers" would best describe them. It is a given that they cooperate with each other in training and daily life just like real brothers, but they really do seem like a typical set of brothers. The dependable eldest son, the second son who is good at everything and the self-assured third son. (My descriptions of the second and third sons could be better... I hope they don't get mad!)

The thing they all have in common is that they are very hard workers. Having seen them completing every training program and overcoming difficulties, I have often thought that this was due to their inherent high-level skills." But in reality, they make tremendous efforts such as listening to the Russian language in their cars, studying even on holidays before exams and asking senior astronauts for advice before new training programs. I recently read on the Internet that a comedian said, "all people who always seem to be lucky work hard, without exception." This is probably true.

After these three were formally certified as astronauts, I left the astronauts' department and currently work in a different office. Yet I sometimes hear things about them like "Yui has slimmed down and got stronger", "I went to Russia with Onishi and he spoke Russian fluently in restaurants and grocery stores" or "Kanai was very confident when talking to senior astronauts at a symposium." Every time I hear about them, I'm glad to know that they are still working steadily towards their goals.

It has been announced that Yui will go on a mission to the ISS in 2015. I am very much looking forward to seeing this trio do a great job on the ISS in the future. I am sure they would appreciate your support.

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