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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, July, 2013

Last Updated: September 4, 2013

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

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

Astronaut 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.

He first underwent training at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) at the beginning of July, then at the Tsukuba Science Center (TKSC) in the second half of the month.

At the JSC, he went through a series of training covering Extravehicular Activity (EVA), manipulation of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), and the response to possible emergencies on the ISS.

In the training for EVA conducted in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a large pool containing a submerged full-scale ISS mockup, Wakata simulated the maintenance operations for the exposed equipment installed on the exterior of the ISS.

Wakata and his crewmate celebrating Expedition 37/38 crew's preflight training completion (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

Wakata and his crewmate celebrating Expedition 37/38 crew's preflight training completion (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

Training in preparation for emergencies (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

Training in preparation for emergencies (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

He also practiced grapple of a visiting vehicle by operating the SSRMS console installed on the Cupola. Cupola is attached to the nadir side of the space station and is equipped with the SSRMS console and large windows that give a direct bird's-eye view of the outboard. The training was held using a Cupola simulator, surrounded by a dorm screen showing the CG of the outboard field.

All six members of both Expedition 38 and 39 participated in the emergency training conducted on the ISS mockup. In the training, the members cooperated to respond to fire, sudden depressurization, and toxic spills in order to deepen their understanding of the procedure and teamwork. Expedition 39's emergency response training was critical as it tested Wakata's leadership as commander. Meanwhile, astronaut Takuya Onishi observed the training to learn how the experienced astronauts communicated and responded to anomalies.

In early July, the cake-cutting ceremony was held in the JSC to celebrate Expedition 37/38 crew's completion of their official preflight training. Wakata and his crewmates also attended the ceremony.

Wakata working on experiment related training (Credit: JAXA)

Wakata working on experiment related training (Credit: JAXA)

After coming back to Japan in late July, Wakata received training regarding the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo" at the Tsukuba Space Center. As a Kibo Specialist, he reviewed knowledge and techniques for addressing irregularities that might occur on Kibo as well as system operations planned during his stay on the ISS. Wakata's training also covered preparations for experiments including the following.

Press conference (Credit: JAXA)

Press conference (Credit: JAXA)

As this is the last visit to Japan before his long-expedition mission, a press conference was held at the TKSC. Wakata explained his mission in the press conference which was followed by a Q&A session. Many questions focused on his role as Expedition 39 commander. Responding to questions, Wakata commented that teamwork had been built through repeated training and expressed his aspirations for the mission.

Astronaut Kimiya Yui's training for a long-duration ISS mission

Carrying on from June, in early July astronaut Kimiya Yui, a crew member for the ISS Expedition 44/45 mission, underwent training for the Soyuz spacecraft at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).

Yui received lectures on the Soyuz rendezvous operations to the ISS, the life support system, and the leak checking system of the docking ports with the ISS and practiced operations using simulators.

In mid July, he stopped by Japan, primarily to hold meetings with related parties for his ISS long-duration mission.

Then in late July he moved to the US and resumed his ISS training in the JSC. In addition to the necessary systems and hardware knowledge, he learned about the space environment surrounding the ISS, such as space radiation. Meanwhile, he continued flight training using a T-38 jet trainer and the study of languages.

The 26th ASE Planetary Congress was held in Germany

From July 1-5, the 26th ASE Planetary Congress was held in Cologne, Germany, and astronauts Mukai, Noguchi, and Hoshide attended on behalf of JAXA. In the 26th congress, titled "Citizens of Space - Stewards of Earth," environmental problems and technological innovation were discussed.

The Planetary Congress, held almost every year, is hosted by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), which is an organization consisting of astronauts and cosmonauts from many countries. ASE works not only to contribute to space development and human space activity, but also to promote science and technology education, and raise awareness about environmental problems.

A scene of a session (Credit: JAXA)

A scene of a session (Credit: JAXA)

Hoshide debriefing his ISS mission

Hoshide debriefing his ISS mission

In a session in which each International Partner (PI) reported their activities, astronaut Hoshide made a presentation on behalf of JAXA. The session titled "International Space Programs - Year in review," was started with an opening speech by astronaut Noguchi, as a member of the ASE Executive Committee. Hoshide reported his activities on the ISS over the past year, including EVA and CubeSats deployment demonstration from Kibo he performed.

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

Hello everyone. In July, I had the chance to return to Japan for the first time in a long while. Of course, working in Japan is really great fun and very rewarding. At the same time, when I come back to Japan, I wonder if the work we do and the accomplishments on the ISS (International Space Station) are being properly communicated to the Japanese people. As I am always saying, Japanese technological strength, the operational capabilities of Kibo and Kounotori and the quality of training for astronauts and controllers, etc. are very highly valued by the countries participating in the ISS. So every time doubts about the ISS's raison d'etre and investment in future manned space activities are raised in Japan, we always feel keenly that we are not fulfilling our responsibility to explain and we feel sorry about that.

There have been many accomplishments on the ISS but those that are comparatively well known are probably the discovery of X-ray novas with my beloved MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image) and High Quality Protein Crystallization, etc. However, apart from these commonly known achievements, know-how about manned space development technology cultivated by the Kibo module, spacecraft and rocket technology such as HTV Kounotori and H-IIB and, further, the know-how and technology for operating these have been accumulated. Most importantly, the budgets for these are used within Japan and are creating employment as well as producing results in refining the latest technologies.

写真:全天X線監視装置 MAXIは、ISSの中でも最も大きな成果をあげている装置の一つです。4年間で12件ものX線新星を発見し、世界のX線宇宙観測に大きく貢献しています。(従来は、年間で1個発見のペースでした。)

MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image) is one of the devices that have made the greatest achievements on the ISS. In four years, it has discovered 12 X-ray novas and greatly contributes to global X-ray space observation. (Prior to MAXI, we only discovered 1 X-ray nova or so per year.)


By making protein crystals in microgravity, it is possible to create high quality crystals and to analyse the crystalline structure in close detail. The development of new medicines or new catalysts, etc. is expected from this. It is also possible for many countries to participate in experiments as the price per sample is comparatively low. At the moment, Russia and Malaysia are participating in experiments but it would be good if more countries could participate in joint research in the future. (Photos supplied by: JAXA)

I don't think what I have been talking about so far will be particularly new information for people who are interested in space development and I imagine that there are many people who are raising doubts about the investment of 40 billion yen a year even though they acknowledge these accomplishments. (The yearly investment of 40 billion yen in the ISS is the equivalent of each person in Japan, including children, investing around 1 yen a day. I feel that I must work hard every day in order to respond to these expectations.)

To tell the truth, the greatest achievement of the ISS in my opinion is something that has not really come up in discussion up until now. I think this is a perfect opportunity for me to express my own personal thoughts on this.

The greatest achievement of the ISS in my opinion is its contribution to peace and safety in Japan.

Did you know that I used to be a fighter pilot in the Air Self-Defense Force? When I was working as a pilot, my goal was to be the strongest fighter pilot I could be. I worked hard every day based on the notion that if I was the strongest, there was no way I could lose and that if there were many pilots who had the ability to be unbeatable, no one would even think about attacking Japan!

After that, when I was working as a test pilot, I put all my energy into my work based on the notion that if we can provide pilots with efficient and easy-to-use equipment, the Self-Defense Force would become stronger and no one would even think about attacking Japan, with the motto, 'victory in the air comes from victory in technology'.

Furthermore, when I was working on coordination between Japan and the US at the Joint Staff Office, I believed that if I could maintain a good relationship with the US and create an environment in which we could work together when push came to shove, then other countries would acknowledge this and no one would even think about attacking Japan!

That's right. Until I became an astronaut, I put all my energy into how I could maintain the safety of my fellow citizens. Someone who thought all of the above feels every day that the greatest accomplishment of the ISS is its contribution to peace and safety in Japan. No, I believe that it has made an incredible accomplishment in peace not only in Japan but throughout Asia and the world!

To give an example, when I was a member of the Self-Defense Force, my impression of Russia was not particularly good. In the first place, not much good information about Russia filters into Japan and when I was a fighter pilot, I didn't need that kind of information... (National character and the opponent's strategy, etc. were important information but even if a pilot in the air knows that the people he is fighting against are good people, it only means that their job becomes more difficult.)

However, I was assigned to embark the ISS and I spent a lot of time in Russia and now I am really embarrassed about what I thought in the past. I believed that Japan was the most peaceful country in the world and I was very proud of that. So, even though there are many pro-Japanese people in Russia, when I found out that Japan was not like that, I felt fairly embarrassed about being a citizen sincerely aspiring to international peace.

When I saw the real Russia, I was able to see recognize the important of a partnership with Russia. And now, every day, I am putting all my energy into making Russian people understand the importance of a partnership with Japan.

In this way, both countries can create a good mutual relationship by working towards common goals while mutually recognizing each other's true strengths and as a result, can construct a peaceful relationship. The ISS is exactly that and the countries participating in the ISS are contributing to peace.

Incidentally, what do you think when you look at the current international situation surrounding Japan? There may be some of you who feel a little uneasy when you watch the news recently. However, through the activities on the ISS, Japan is greatly improving its safety and, if we can use the ISS wisely, I believe that it will be possible to further enhance these effects in the future.

As you all know, there is no way that Japan could ever initiate a war. In other words, unless another country attacks Japan, there will not be a war. And I believe that Japanese space development should be aiming to lead in the direction that makes sure that other countries are not tempted to attack Japan.

For example, if many different countries were able to conduct experiments on Japan's Kibo module, relationships of mutual trust would be furthered with those countries and it would be difficult for wars to start. And then, if these kinds of endeavours continued and the situation in which Japan leads Asian space development came to pass, countries would not run the risk of attacking Japan and being strongly criticized by many other countries.

This has all become a little complicated, so let me explain with a simple example.

In neighbourhood associations or school classes, if leaders who are intellectual and composed, who are considerate or who have knowledge of the martial arts and who do not in any way show off these abilities are leading everyone and, in addition, if the operation of the neighbourhood association or class is going well, that leader will be respected and if something happened to that leader, there would be a problem, wouldn't there? And it would be possible to avoid people taking a defiant attitude towards that leader and being strongly criticized by everyone.

If Japan is an indispensable presence for the people in the world like in the example above, Japan will be safe. And I think that Japan's space development will be one contribution to the people of the world.

I have ambitions for the 2015 mission. I hope to do experiments with many different countries using Kibo. And, if possible, I would like to conduct communications events, etc. with people from as many countries as possible during my stay on the ISS.

Some people may think, 'You're using our taxes so you should be working harder for Japan!' However, since I am getting the chance to work on the International Space Station, I want to work for many different countries. And I know that this will greatly contribute to the safety of Japan in the end. It is an important achievement upon which we cannot put a monetary value! This is the ISS's contribution to peace! I hope you understand what I mean.

The 9th of August GMT was the longest day for the control team of Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle (nickname: Kounotori).

For the International Space Station which orbits the earth once every 90 minutes, it is like having day and night every 90 minutes from our point of view on earth. Consequently Greenwich Mean Time is adopted on the ISS and control centres all over the world have created shift systems to suit this.

At NASA's mission control center in Houston in the US, a day is broken into three shifts and on the 9th of August, I was on the second shift in charge of the CapCom console, the person who communicates with the ISS. The first CapCom shift in charge of the HTV up to capture was Astronaut Mike Fincke of NASA. I was in charge of post-capture until the HTV joined the ISS.

In the early hours of 3rd August, Japan time, HTV4, which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, steadily rose in altitude and on the early morning of the 9th, it finally arrived at a point around 5km behind the International Space Station. From around 90 minutes before that, a joint operation between the NASA mission control center and the HTV mission control center in Tsukuba had already commenced. During the joint operation, the two centers control the HTV in close coordination and the ISS prepares for HTV capture.

In preparation for this HTV mission, I took part in NASA controller team simulation training as CapCom a number of times but these training sessions generally start when the HTV is positioned at around 5km behind the ISS. Which means that, from this point onwards up to capture by the ISS robot arm, there are many important events that are all crammed together.

On the day on the 9th of August, if at all possible, I wanted to watch the actual operation from this point onwards from the control center but in Houston, it was only just past midnight. My actual shift didn't start until 7am and I didn't want to be tired just as my own shift started if I watched it all night and run the risk of impediment to my actual duties so I was sad about it but I had to give up on watching it.

I actually arrived at the control center in Houston at around 5:30 am and I would like to take this opportunity to give a simple explanation of what happens from the position of 5km behind the ISS to the approach of the HTV to the ISS.

The HTV waited for about two and a half hours in this position during which both teams performed checks on both the ISS and the HTV systems to make sure that there were no major problems and then, at 8:05 GMT, they fired up the engines and re-started the approach to the ISS. It approached the ISS on an elliptical relative trajectory. At this time propulsion is strong but it is actually purposely made stronger than is required for the approach. This is because if some kind of malfunction were to occur after this point, even if it were no longer possible to control it from the ground, the aim is purposely displaced from the ISS so that there is no risk of the HTV colliding with it. Propulsion after this is calculated based on the same basic concept and even if it is released, it will not get too close to the ISS for a fixed period of time. This kind of safety design is an extremely precise plan made by orbit dynamics specialists and can only be described as perfect. It is precisely this safety design concept that is a component of the 'spirit' of the capture method created by Japan through the HTV and I think that I would like to talk about this in a little more detail next month.

In this way, the HTV flew in a large elliptical trajectory towards the lower side of the ISS and had the next major propulsion at 8:43. The above-mentioned aim that is purposely displaced from the ISS in the approach is now changed to an aim of a point 500m below the ISS. This is a big change in trajectory so it is the largest propulsion in the joint operation.

The HTV safely completed this propulsion and passed to 500m below the ISS at 9:07 and after this approached the ISS extremely slowly and carefully. It was around half past ten when it reached 30m below the ISS which means that the 470m approach took almost an hour and a half. This might seem simple but it is precisely the part in which the HTV approaches the ISS in a linear fashion from underneath which is actually the most difficult from the point of view of trajectory control. It would take a very long time to explain why this is so difficult so I would like to leave that for another time. Or maybe I'll get one of my friends on the HTV team to write about it...


HTV photographed from the ISS (approach from underneath)

It was when the HTV arrived at the 30m point underneath the ISS that I went into the control center. The large control room was totally silent and there was a unique feeling of tension in the air. I sat down next to Mike Fincke. Because I had been able to gather a certain amount of information at home after I got up, I knew that the HTV had already progressed well to this point and when I asked Mike how it was going, he replied, sure enough, that everything had been going very smoothly up until now.

When you look up from the console, the current status of the HTV flight and ISS systems are displayed on large complicated screens. There are live pictures from the external cameras attached to the ISS and the shape of the HTV can be seen clearly. There is absolutely no blurring and it looks just like a still image. You would never think that it was travelling at the great speed of 8km/s.

We were inching towards the moment of capture, the biggest climax of the first half of the HTV mission.

I'm sure you will be thinking, 'What? This is where you're going to stop??' To be continued next month!!


HTV photographed from the ISS

*Photos supplied by:JAXA/NASA

Hello everyone. This is Norishige Kanai.

The other day, Kounotori 4 arrived safely at the International Space Station. It was a perfect launch, rendezvous and capture (this is when astronauts catch Kounotori that has cut its engines and gone into free drift with the robot arm).

The perfect catch! As its relative velocity is zero, Kounotori may seem like it is not moving but actually, it is like shaking hands between two trains that are running along side by side at the same speed.

The perfect catch! As its relative velocity is zero, Kounotori may seem like it is not moving but actually, it is like shaking hands between two trains that are running along side by side at the same speed.

This may seem like a routine launch and a routine arrival at the Space Station but it is not difficult to imagine the careful preparation of many engineers behind the scenes and various hardships in the actual operation.

I say routine but, apart from those who are actually involved in the mission, I don't think most people, including myself, overly concerned themselves and they expected a successful launch and docking.

'Ah, did Kounotori launch then?' 'I hear it arrived safely at the Space Station.'

Even when we read or listen to the news, this story was read as routine and I imagine that for a lot of people, it just went in one ear and out of the other.

As it is not the first successful launch, it is not treated as a big news story…and I kind of think this is a shame.

If you think about it, the first successful launch was, of course, a tall order but it must also be the same kind of tall order to continue with successful launches a second, third and fourth time.

Even at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston where I work, there probably wasn't even one person who was seriously worried that Kounotori 4 would fail this time.

This must also be the faith and expectation that comes from the results of the careful daily preparation and continuous successes since the first mission.

As a Japanese person and as a member of the JAXA staff, I am very proud to be able to actually experience this much faith and hope from NASA, who sent humankind to the moon, in my every day work and there is never day when I don't feel lucky to be in such an environment.

However, at the same time, I also feel strongly that it was definitely not me who exerted myself and won my way into this amazing environment.

The operation teams for Kounotori, H-IIB rocket and the Japanese experimental module, Kibo, many of my senior engineers who have worked long years at NASA for their development, my senior Japanese astronauts, all the researchers who have been involved in space experiments since the space shuttle….

Everyone has such absolute faith in the ability and achievements of all these people but I sometimes have uncomfortable thoughts about the fact that I have done nothing of note and I have just been provided with a free and comfortable environment where I can study as I please.

Of course, in the future, if I am ever appointed to a space flight mission, I intend to work as hard as I can to respond to everyone's faith and expectations but, at the moment, I must admit that I somehow feel that I am piling up 'debts' in paying for my career progress.

In contrast to being pleased when my NASA colleagues say things like, 'Kounotori is really great, isn't it?' or 'JAXA is doing great work, just like you would expect,' I worry if I am able to work as a Japanese astronaut without betraying these great expectations.

I must just keep working as hard as I can every day so that, if I am appointed to a mission, I will be able to stick my chest out and say, 'You can count on me!'

*Photo supplied by: JAXA/NASA

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