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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, September, 2013

Last Updated: November 15, 2013

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

Astronaut Koichi Wakata completes NASA's training for a long-duration ISS mission

(Photo taken in March, 2013, credit: JAXA/NASA)

Wakata preparing for EVA training in NBL (Photo taken in March, 2013, credit: JAXA/NASA)
(Photo taken in March, 2013, credit: JAXA/NASA)

Astronaut Koichi Wakata, assigned as a crew member for the Expedition 38/39 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), completed NASA's training for a long-duration mission.

During his last training opportunity at the JSC, Wakata checked general ISS operations, including ISS system operations, hardware failure response, and medical hardware operations.

He was also trained for Extravehicular Activities (EVA) using a large pool in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL). Diving in a large pool containing a submerged full-scale ISS mockup, Wakata simulated maintenance operations on exposed equipment installed on the exterior of the ISS and checked how to respond to irregularities in the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU).

In addition, he provided his preflight medical baseline data for medical experiments.

In late September, he visited the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) at the European Space Agency (ESA) in Germany to receive training for the Columbus laboratory module and the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).

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

Continuing on from August, Astronaut Kimiya Yui, assigned as a crew member for the Expedition 44/45 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 September, and then at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in the second half of the month.

At the GCTC, Yui acquired knowledge about the operations of the Soyuz spacecraft systems through lectures on the attitude control system, the docking system, the TV system, and the medical support system and practiced these operations using simulators.

Yui learned how to operate equipment installed on US experimental racks and how to use the toilet and the exercise machines that are essential when living on the ISS. In addition, in order to experience general ISS work patterns, he simulated work according to a one-day task list in the ISS training mockup. He was also trained in procedures in case of rapid depressurization or toxic spills and also for Extravehicular Activities (EVA). As part of EVA training, Yui learned how to handle cables during EVA and about operations for Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER) that is used if an astronaut falls off into space.

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi attends SEATEST in Aquarius

Noguchi collecting samples (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

From September 10-14, Astronaut Soichi Noguchi attended Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems & Training (SEATEST) held by NASA.

SEATEST is training that is held in the underwater facility “Aquarius” located off the coast of Florida, US in the surrounding underwater environment. This training aims to make technical assessments towards EVA during future manned space exploration as well as to improve team behavior through such activities.

Noguchi participated in the training with NASA and ESA astronauts. Aiming at future manned space exploration, they used the seabed to resemble the surface of an asteroid to evaluate sample collection, tool operation and transfer methods. In Aquarius, a new, smaller version of an exercise machine that is currently used on the ISS was tested to see if it provides more effective exercise in a smaller space.

Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa takes part in CAVES training held in Sardinia, Italy

Furukawa and other CAVES participants (Credit: JAXA/ESA-V.Crobu)

Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa attended the Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills (CAVES) held on the island of Sardinia, Italy, together with astronauts and cosmonauts from ISS participating partners NASA, RSA, ESA, and CSA.

This training is hosted by the ESA and held in a cave in Sardinia, Italy. The participants live in a group for a week in a severe environment where there is no sunlight with limited food and equipment.

Furukawa exploring the cave (Credit: JAXA/ESA-v. Crobu)

The training, including preparation, was held for two weeks from September 15. Preparation included cave exploration methods, tool usage, and safety precautions. In the cave, the participants updated the map with hitherto unexplored areas, obtained environmental data such as topographical features, temperature, and humidity, and surveyed living creatures in the cave. After emerging from the cave, they organized the data and samples obtained and evaluated the training which concluded the training session.

Astronaut Norishige Kanai undergoes robotic arm training in Canada

Using the SSRMS simulator, Kanai captures the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) (Credit: CSA)

From September 16-26, Astronaut Norishige Kanai underwent training for ISS Mobile Servicing System (MSS) operation at the headquarters of the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal, Canada.

MSS is a system developed by Canada and is composed of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), “Dextre” Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), the Mobile Base System (MBS), a base platform for SSRMS, and the Mobile Transporter (MT), which enables MBS and SSRMS to move on the ISS truss.

Through lectures and simulator practice, Kanai acquired basic MSS knowledge and practiced operation and as well as spacecraft capturing and responses to system irregularities.

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

*Astronaut Onishi’s journal will not be available this month.

Hello everyone. I always talk a lot about Russia in my journal but this time I am going to talk about my training in America.

In September, I did Routine Ops Sim training for the first time. This training is for everyday activities on the ISS.

It was conducted together with the American astronauts with whom I will actually spend time on the ISS.

On the ISS, a general meeting is held every morning through communications links with the control centers in each country. Prior to this, files summarizing essential information for the implementation of that day’s work, essential information for dealing with emergency situations, questions for the crew and responses to questions from the crew are sent from the ground.

This time, the training started with getting up in the morning, reading this information and starting the preparation for the day. As soon as I checked these files, I realised they contained questions for me so I came up with answers in preparation for the general meeting. At the meeting, there was a run-through of the day in general and an explanation of points to note and once everyone’s questions were answered, we immediately got on with the day’s work at hand.

Me and my fellow astronaut, Kjell, were both undergoing this type of training for the first time so tasks created in order to check the basics of items management were implemented. We were given situations that could occur at any time such as: ‘When I went t to eat my breakfast, I realised that there was no more XX.’ ‘When I tried to throw away some rubbish, the rubbish bag was full.’ ‘I tried using the calculator but it was broken. What should I do?’, and we solved them one by one. After that, we continued with comparatively simple work such as tool inventory checks and moving work stations.

Me: ‘Maybe it’s because it’s my first time doing this training that the tasks aren’t too complicated?’

I was just thinking this when...all of a sudden, the training came to a head!

The air in the ISS is continuously circulated in order to maintain air quality and humidity is controlled at the same time. The tasks of checking the quality of the water that results from this humidity control and moving it to a separate tank fell to me. This work is not particularly complicated in itself but it is essential to conduct these operations having read and understood the procedures well. First of all, I start by gathering together the necessary tools. And I already had a problem! When I went to look for the container to which I had to move the water, the container with the item number stated in the instructions was not there. I checked with the control room on the ground straight away.

Me: ‘I can’t find the container with the item number stated in the instructions. Can I use the container with item number XX instead?’

After a while, the response came.

Houston: ‘That will be fine.’

As a matter of fact, it is very important to use the container with the correct item number listed in the instructions as there can be problems when, even though the container is the same, the type of water it contains or has contained in the past is different. (Just as you wouldn’t put drinking water into a container that had already contained dirty water...And Russian drinking water and American drinking water are disinfected in different ways and therefore cannot be mixed.)

Following that, various problems and questions occurred!

Me: ‘Huh? According to the instructions from the ground, I should be attaching this hose directly but about an hour ago when I was doing the preparations, I put on a T-shaped it seems odd that I should have to remove that adapter now...I want to check with the ground but I can’t contact them for another 5 minutes…’

And time kept marching on...even so...

Me: ‘This is not an urgent task and I should do it correctly instead of getting frazzled and making a mistake! I made this resolution and checked with the ground after waiting for communications to resume.

Me: ‘According to the task instructions, I should be attaching this hose directly but are you sure this is right? During the preparations, I attached a T-shaped adapter so do I really have to remove it at this point?’

Houston: ‘We will check. Stand by’

After a while,

Houston: ‘It’s just as you said. Please go ahead with the adapter that you attached earlier.’

Me: ‘Phew! I’m glad I checked.’

However, I had no time to be relieved as another question came up straight away! The time it took for a number of exchanges like this continued to pass and we were already 30 minutes over the time limit by the time I finished the task. But my fellow crew members helped me with the implementation of other tasks that were behind schedule. (I am grateful to them.)

These tasks really took a long time and I reflected on this long and hard...I was a little down as I went to the post-training briefing but my instructor gave me a good evaluation. It was emphasized that it was highly risky to continue with tasks if they are ambiguous and that, in the end, continuing without checking takes even more time and costs even more money.

On the other hand, I learned the importance of preparing in advance. I had intended to do a preliminary check of procedures on the day before the training but my internet connection wasn’t working properly and I wasn’t able to access the procedures. If I had been able to check them in advance, I would have been able to check a number of things with the ground in advance and the tasks would have gone smoothly. This is an extremely commonplace lesson that demonstrates how very important advance preparation is in order to implement tasks promptly and accurately with confidence but it is difficult to implement from day to day. I am sure you have all taken a test without doing enough preparation in advance or have been unprepared for making a presentation in front of everyone and you know the high possibility of feeling uneasy and failing in the process.

This is the same thing. It is important to work out how to handle things when you fail but it is also important to prepare so that you don’t fail, isn’t it? I am going to work hard to prepare steadily and solidly for my mission in 2015 so that I can do my work with confidence!

The full-size model of the ISS is in this big building and this is where astronauts do their training. It is part of the visitor’s tour so some people reading this may have seen it.

The full-size model of the ISS is in this big building and this is where astronauts do their training. It is part of the visitor’s tour so some people reading this may have seen it.

The instructors watch over our activities from this room. Japan’s Kibo is on the left.

The instructors watch over our activities from this room. Japan’s Kibo is on the left.

photo photo

These photos are a bonus. There are a lot of animals at the JSC. The other day I saw a squirrel and a deer so I took photos of them. The deer ran away when I tried to get close to it (grin).

*Photos: JAXA

I underwent robot arm control training in Canada for two weeks in September.

This is a huge robot arm of 17m in length that is called Canada Arm 2 which catches (this is called capture) spacecraft such as Japan’s Kounotori that bring supplies to the ISS. If these spacecraft accidentally bumped into the ISS, it might lead to a catastrophe so we have to control them safely using two hand controllers (left and right) while continually checking movements with TV cameras.

The astronaut’s job is to do safety checks by switching between the TV cameras while taking time and slowly operating the arm in situations when there is even a small concern about safety or if an unexpected malfunction occurs and to troubleshoot through communication with the controllers on the ground.

When you think something is comes first and it is a simple case of stopping work immediately and taking the time to check the situation and at the beginning of the training, it doesn’t feel too difficult.

What was most difficult about this training was the latter half of the session: spacecraft capture.


Separated by a wall with the logo of the Canadian Space Agency, two astronauts are simultaneously trained one-to-one by instructors. On the right is my training partner, Tim Peake from the UK.

In the training set up, the spacecraft that has arrived at the capture point is moving around randomly here and there within a specified area. It is pretty difficult to follow it with the robot arm and catch it.

(NB: I have heard that in real missions, Kounotori, for example, arrives at a fixed point and stays there without moving and it is as if you just have to go and catch a fixed objective, so it is a little different from training.)

At any rate, the robot arm itself is huge and its mass is also large so if you move the hand controller suddenly the tip of the arm will swin g uncontrollably.

You have to get the tip of the arm to within 10cm of the pin that captures the robot arm at an angle range of between 10 and 15 degrees so you have to follow the spacecraft slowly and patiently, operating the hand controller while being sensitive to the amount of pressure you exert on it.

Not to mention the fact that a 90 second timer starts at the position of 1.5m from the spacecraft so there is the added pressure of having to complete the task within a time limit!

There are times when you think that things are not going well and you pull the arm back once and reposition it but there are also times when you get close to the point where you can’t pull back and you have to just go ahead and forcibly capture the spacecraft (as safely as possible).

If there are any malfunctions during the task (even if this possibility is minimal in reality, in training, various malfunctions occur suddenly in the worst situations), in these situations, you have to make an instant judgement and decide whether to continue with the task or abandon it.

Even when you are concentrating on a delicate task, your ability to make instant judgements is required in unexpected situations that occur suddenly.

This may only be my own arbitrary assumption but I feel that pilots and athletes are particularly good at making this kind of instant judgement.

On the other hand, I am really not good at making the kind of judgement that is required in seconds and I go as far as to say that I don’t believe that I am cut out for controlling the robot arm.

From the start of the training, I continually failed to capture and my instructor was looking a bit pale, no doubt thinking, ‘Wow. We have a difficult one here...’ (grin). Even so, after repeating this training on the second and third days, I gradually managed to do clean captures (succeeding in capture within the perfect vertical/horizontal and angle range) and I somehow managed to pass the final exam to obtain the qualification of Robot Arm Operator!

Each time I failed, my instructors repeatedly gave me advice such as ‘Listen. This is not an easy thing to operate. Stick to the basics and move the hand controller reliably with the minimum of strength. Continue to be patient. You have plenty of time.’ I will never be able to thank them enough.

One of the instructors, who is an excellent robot arm control specialist, repeatedly said that it was a difficult operation but when I was down about failing, he kept encouraging me.

I was apt to get cold feet using the excuse that I don’t have the talent or the sense to complete the task but he changed my thinking to, ‘even though you start as a pilot, you are not necessarily good at it in the beginning and you only get good at it by working really hard and practicing.’

On reflection, when I think about astronaut training as a whole, I see my senior astronauts easily dealing with difficult tasks or work as if they were no big deal and I think, ‘it’s because that person is talented,’ or ‘it’s because I’m not talented,’ giving and being satisfied with my own arbitrary reason.

However, I came to think that perhaps when these senior astronauts were just starting out, they had the same problems as me and they made mistakes but despite that, after long years of practice and study, they have obtained the skill level that they have now. (Of course, most of my senior astronauts are amazing people with so many abilities and it is highly likely that there were able to do anything right from the start...)

I do worry a lot in my day to day training about not being able to do this or that but since I got back from Canada, I feel that I am able to shrug it off a little by thinking that it’s natural that I can’t do these things because they are very difficult. That is why I am working hard right now.

It was not simply robot arm technology that I learned from my Canadian instructors. They also taught me what an astronaut should be (= a stance of continuing to work hard, this is probably not limited to just astronauts...). They really were great teachers.

When I got back to Houston, some people told me that they were looking forward to seeing me active in space. In the event that I am assigned to a future mission, when I think that these robot arms instructors will be colleagues with whom I will work together as controllers in the future, I feel reassured and motivated to work hard.


The instructors who trained me for two weeks. You can really see how much behind-the-scenes support goes into the training I am receiving. These people usually conduct mission support for the space station as controllers or engineers.

*Photos: Canadian Space Agency

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