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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, October, 2013

Last Updated: December 10, 2013

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

Astronaut Koichi Wakata's activities before his upcoming long-expedition mission

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Soyuz TMA-11M (37S) crew poses for a photo when beginning their final examination (From left, Wakata, Tyurin, Mastracchio) (Credit: JAXA/GCTC)

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While donning Sokol spacesuits, the crew checks Soyuz' interior configuration for the launch (From left, Wakata, Tyurin, Mastracchio) (Credit: S.P.Korolev RSC Energia)

Astronaut Koichi Wakata, who started his ISS long-duration mission on November 7, underwent final training for the mission at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in October.

Wakata and his crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio, underwent final training for the Soyuz rendezvous and ISS docking at the GCTC. At the end of the training, they simulated a flight aboard the Soyuz spacecraft and operations on the ISS Russian segment.

Besides the training, they held meetings with the Russian related parties regarding tasks and activities during their stay.

After completing all the training series required by the GCTC, they took their final examinations on October 15 and 17; the examinations on the Russian segment and the Soyuz spacecraft were held on the first and second days respectively. Each examination was conducted in full-scale simulators to test the crew’s technique during irregularities and their ability to cooperate and appropriately respond to various failures and emergencies. After finishing the two-day examination, the trio was officially certified as the 37S crew on October 22.On the same day, Wakata and his fellow crewmates attended the traditional pre-launch ceremony and press conference at the GCTC.

They were transferred from the GCTC to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 26, where they made final preparations for launch, checked on the progress of the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft preparation, and fit-checked their Sokol spacesuits.

Astronaut Kimiya Yui continues his training for an upcoming long-duration ISS mission

Astronaut Kimiya Yui, who was assigned as a crewmember for the ISS Expedition 44/45 mission, trained for the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS Russian segment at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).

During the Soyuz spacecraft training, Yui learned the name, function, and operation of each piece of equipment and service installed in the Orbital and Descent Modules. He also used a simulator to train for the flight operation procedure.

During the Russian segment training, he learned to refer to hardware operational procedures and to perform routine operations on the ISS. Additional training included computer and equipment control systems. He also received safety training for working in the Russian segment.

Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa underwent domestic-flight pilot training

On October 8, 9, and 11, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa underwent pilot flight training at Honda Airport in Kawajima town, Saitama prefecture.

The training was intended to maintain and improve multi-tasking and judgment abilities, which are necessary qualifications for astronauts. While piloting an airplane under changing conditions, appropriate judgment has to be made in regard to checking present location and weather, as well as communicating with the ground.

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi participates in the Association of Space Explorers' media event

On October 25, Astronaut Soichi Noguchi attended a media event at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, for a discussion on asteroid threats.

Besides Noguchi, four former NASA and Romanian astronauts, including Russell Schweickart the Lunar Module Pilot of the Apollo 9 mission, and Thomas Jones who completed four space shuttle flights, participated in the event.

During the event, they discussed measures to prevent asteroids impacting Earth and the resulting disaster. Noguchi stressed the importance of international cooperation and explained that technologies from Japan's asteroid probes Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 can be used to detect the asteroids' exact location and orbit.

Astronaut Furukawa delivers lectures at the TKSC's open house event

On October 19, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa held lectures titled "Let's talk with astronaut Furukawa" at the open house event in the Tsukuba Science Center (TKSC).

At the opening of the event, Furukawa introduced the ISS and the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo", and the experiments conducted aboard the space station.

After the introduction, in order to explain the difference between space and the ground and changes to the body that occurs in space, Furukawa gave a quiz with questions such as “What is a difficult movement in space?” and “What happens to the sole of the foot in space?”. He used video and pictures from his stay on the ISS to explain these differences.

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Q&A session (Credit: JAXA)

The key feature of this event was the Q&A session held after the quizzing session, which allowed the audience to directly talk with Furukawa. The audience asked many questions. While answering their questions, Furukawa commented that he was amazed to see the Earth from space, and upon returning to Earth, he experienced a feeling as if somebody was sitting on his legs.

He concluded the event with a final message to the audience.

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

Hello everyone. I hope you are well. This month’s journal is about Russia...again! My training in Russia is really hard work but, for me, it is also like Paradise because I can learn new things. And while I am in training in Russia (apologies to my family), I am provided with an environment in which I can concentrate just on myself and what I am doing so I can take more time to think than when I am in the US and I have more time to go walking and so on. This is where I am really grateful to my wife in the US who is looking after the children!

Readers who follow my Twitter feed will know that, recently, I have been making efforts to polish my knowledge of the arts. To be honest, my work has had absolutely nothing to do with the arts and art has never been a hobby of mine. However, I have been keenly feeling the importance of the arts for some time and when I thought about the extent of its effects on the hearts and minds of other people, I came to think that it was necessary to polish my knowledge of the arts as much as possible so that many people can hear about my passion for it when I go into space in the future!

I have said this before on Twitter but I feel that people, including myself, instinctively continue to demand even better and even richer lifestyles. I feel that there is no limit to this desire but, of course, if we go down the road of everyone in humanity pursuing material desires, the earth’s environment will surely be destroyed before those desires are met. If it were possible for people to fill their hearts and minds with art instead, I think that the burden on the environment could be greatly reduced. I always say things like, “Space has infinite possibilities and the more I try to push the boundaries, the more it responds to me!” but I think that there is also limitless potential in people’s minds and that their creativity knows no bounds!

The first time I felt this was the first time I came to Russia...since I saw a free concert in Moscow by students who were aiming to become professional pianists and the many older people who were listening to the concert ? mutually fulfilling each other’s aspirations.

To be pragmatic about it, the cost of living in Russia is definitely not low. I think it is around the same level as in Japan. However, salaries in general are not necessarily high and I had the impression that life was hard. And so I was a little worried about where Russian people were able to find happiness in such a hard life. However, it was me, the one who was worrying about that sort of thing, who was in actual fact addicted to the world of money and materialistic desires and I realised that the people in Russia were living their lives, finding little bits of happiness in all kinds of different places.

As an astronaut, I use everyone’s taxes and many resources to do my work in space so I have an obligation to produce as many results as possible. Up until now, as I have mentioned in the past, the ISS is contributing by producing many experiment results and is also contributing to peace. (Unfortunately, these have not been given sufficiently good exposure but I am very much aware that the cause of this is a lack of clear explanation on my part.)

In order to make everyone understand the magnificence of the world and the unlimited potential of humankind, I think that it is essential to acquire the sensitivity to be able to touch everyone’s hearts.

I only have one and a half years before I go up into space ? not a lot of time ? but luckily, Russia is full of opportunities to come into contact with authentic art. I will polish my sensitivity and use all methods at my disposal such as words, photos and my own conduct to tell everyone about the magnificence of manned space development so I hope that you will indulge me.


Russia has a lot of silver birches which are really beautiful. I have heard poems and songs that liken the birches to young women. It’s true that they could be seen as being like young Russian women, white-skinned and slender.... Since I heard about this, each time I see silver birches rustling in the wind, I seem to see a group of women chatting.
When I told a Russian person about this, it was curtly rejected, “Hmmm, silver birches are just trees.” This is where people’s ways of feeling things are different which can be both difficult and fun.

photo photo photo

Winter is coming to Russia! As of October, the snow is not yet lying on the ground but it is just a matter of time. Next time, I hope to be able to show you photos of beautiful winter scenery. And just as I was thinking that, a kind Russian person gave me some of their photos from last winter. Take a look at them as a preview of the long, harsh but beautiful Russian winter that is just about to start!

I asked my wife what she thought of this month’s journal as I always do. I was nervously waiting for her response when...

Wife: There have been a lot of times when you haven’t noticed things like my flower arrangements in the house or when I have had my hair cut so I am looking forward to you noticing them from now on.
Me: Oh no, she’s hit a sore point! I have the feeling that she is going to be a strict art teacher for me from now on...

*Photos: JAXA

Hello everyone. I didn't write my journal last month so it's been 2 months, hasn't it?

I am sure you know about the 16 day partial government shutdown in the US at the beginning of October. The cause was a confrontation between the political parties over the provisional budget and consequently, NASA was also shut down (apart from one part of operations). This was also an unusual situation for astronaut training which was suspended except for high priority tasks. I mentioned one part of operations above but the continuation of tasks related to current missions, such as the operation of the International Space Station, were exceptionally authorised and fortunately, there were no adverse effects. At NASA, I am currently a Crew Support Astronaut so I was working as usual during this period and I was even busier than usual.

That was a long introduction but it is my excuse for not writing my column last month! This month I would like to write about Field Maintenance Training in which I was participating up until a few days ago. It is called Field Maintenance Training but it is probably closer to Aircraft Maintenance Training.

That was a long introduction but it is my excuse for not writing my column last month!

This month I would like to write about Field Maintenance Training in which I was participating up until a few days ago. It is called Field Maintenance Training but it is probably closer to Aircraft Maintenance Training.

The training was for 3 weeks from 28th October to 15th November at Ellington Air Force Base where we astronauts usually do aircraft operations training on the T-38 training jet.

NASA currently owns around 20 T-38s and this training was to conduct maintenance work on these along with professional mechanics. This is a very new type of training with the course that I attended only being a test run, the second of its kind, and it is still in the development stages as far as NASA is concerned.

So why is NASA trying to develop this type of training?

Currently, one of the main tasks that an astronaut conducts in orbit is the set-up and maintenance of ISS systems equipment and experimental devices. This is because even though most system control and scientific experiment implementations are possible by remote control from the ground, manual procedures by astronauts such as equipment installation and the replacement of experiment samples are required.

The skills required for these kinds of manual procedures are similar to the skills required by someone who does DIY. That is to say that you have to know the correct way to use the tools and you have to follow the procedures manual to accurately perform the procedure. However, the peculiarities of working in orbit are that there is a great number of different types of tools and that the number of spare parts is limited so there are not many possibilities if there is a problem, and so on.

These skills can be improved to a certain level by basically practising over and over but the DIY experiences of individual astronauts differ greatly and this is why, based on requests from astronauts who have experience of long-term missions on the ISS, we started the development of this kind of training with the aim of mitigating these differences even a little and raising skill levels.

At any rate, in the motorized society of America, there are many people who generally fix their cars in their own garages when there is a problem and there is a big difference between the people who have this kind of experience as opposed to those who don’t.

As for me, I have assembled a simple shelf before but I have only ever really used a screwdriver and a hammer ? the equivalent of an adventurer in level one of a video game. I hope to improve my experience even a little with a view to my future long-term mission to the ISS.

During the three weeks of training, we were on a rotation every few days to a different division in the T-38 maintenance department. I can just imagine the people reading this thinking, “Hey! Is it OK to let complete amateurs do maintenance on high-performance jets?”

In actual fact, when I was getting ready for this training, one of my senior astronauts, Akihiko Hoshide, gave me some heart-warming encouragement:“Good luck. Make sure you tell me which planes it was that you worked on (because I don’t want to fly on them).

However, this is the world of aerospace in which safety comes first so there is an infallible system in place in which we are always with a qualified mechanic when we are training and the maintenance work that I did was, without fail, checked by that mechanic after I had finished and then double-checked by an expert called an inspector.

After starting the training, the first thing that I found to be a challenge was the large number of tools.


This photo shows only a “small” part of the tools that I used during training.

For a beginner like me, at first glance, there are a lot of tools that I wouldn’t know how to use. For example, for wrenches that tighten screws there are ratchet wrenches, combination wrenches, torque wrenches, etc. etc....

Not to mention that it is complicated because in America, the imperial system is still mainstream and we use inches as the unit for length and, worse, the inch is not divided decimally into units of 0.1 but into 1/32 or 1/16.

There are instructions such as, “Hey, put a 3 inch extension socket and a ? inch to 3/8 inch adapter on that ? inch ratchet wrench!” At first, even getting a picture of what tool they were talking about in my head was hard work.

NASA’s T-38 mechanics are all extremely experienced, each with over 20 years of experience. The senior mechanic who I worked with in the hydraulic systems division said he had been working at NASA for 32 years and that he had been in the air force for almost 20 years before that.

It is the same in all walks of life but experts like these are really incredible.

Just by looking at the head of a screw, they know right away whether it is a 7/16 inch screw or a 3/8 inch screw and, for example, when they are trying to tighten a bolt with one tool and it doesn’t work because there is a pipe in the way, they are able to immediately access tricky areas like this with a combination of certain tools. At any rate, they know all kinds of solutions to problems that occur and the speed with which they find the optimum solution for each case is no less than amazing.

I also learned how to deal with holes for screws that have deteriorated and how to remove bolts that have been attached too tightly.

These kinds of problems come up frequently in orbit so this training was really valuable to me.

The thing I had most difficulty with during this training was the attachment and removal of the air-conditioner on the T-38.

It all started with a case of a little bit of smoke in the cockpit. Judging from the situation, it seemed that smoke generated in the engine was coming out of the air-conditioner into the cockpit and finally, after having replaced some dubious parts and so on, it turned out that it was the air-conditioner itself that was dodgy and we replaced its central part.

The air-conditioner is in the centre of the lower portion of the fuselage. When you remove the panel, you can see an intricate system of pipes and cables. The central part that I was looking for is behind these, right at the back. I had to carefully and deliberately remove each pipe that had been artfully squeezed into such as small space.

Then, in the space we had created, the two of us had to cooperate to remove this large central part by periodically turning it. It had already taken us two hours to get to this point. I was thinking that it was just like a puzzle ring when, before I knew it, I said to the mechanic beside me, “I wonder if the guy who designed this thought about maintenance.”

He replied, “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, isn’t it? People don’t come near me when I’m working on this kind of air-conditioner. They don’t want to get involved. But I must admit that I like working on it.”

I feel exactly the same way. Challenging tasks are much more worth doing and the sense of achievement once they have been completed is great.


Air-conditioner storage area


Removed air-conditioner parts

Luckily, we had a spare central part so we went ahead and installed it but this was much more difficult than the removal. This is because, instead of just loosening, removing and detaching, when installing each part must be properly returned to its original place or half-way through, you will come upon a pipe that you can’t connect.

Both me and the mechanic were dripping with sweat while working on this and by the time we got everything back in its original place and shut the panel, we were almost out of time for that day.


My struggle to install the air-conditioner

The next morning, we went straight ahead and tested the plane in which we had replaced the air-conditioner and there was no recurrence of smoke. I heartily shook the mechanic’s hand.

I learned many things during the three weeks of this training but the most precious thing may have been the time spent with people who had the thankless task of supporting us astronauts in our training.

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Installing the panel on the fuselage


The other day, I had the chance to watch Astronaut Wakata’s launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was the first time I had seen a real live Soyuz rocket and it was really beautiful and impressive with its special design to celebrate the Sochi Olympics.

I was speechless at the incredible sight of the rocket climbing high into the cloudless blue sky of Kazakhstan. I could do nothing but gaze at it.


The Soyuz rock launch trail

I thought I knew all about this Soyuz launch through my training and work in Houston and Star City and media coverage but this was an experience in which I really realized that there is a big difference between hearing about something and actually seeing it.

Many related people of many different levels and in many fields such as management including the board chairman , engineers to work on the launch, PR managers and media as well as guests such as Mr Harada, the Japanese ambassador to Russia gathered in the small town of Baikonur to witness the huge event of the launch of the spacecraft.

Those who gathered there were not only Japanese. In the same way as from JAXA, there were also top executives, on-site engineers, astronauts, guests and media people from NASA and the US as well as Russia and we all mixed with the local cosmodrome staff in a kind of training camp-style situation.

The atmosphere there was of an authentic experience rather than learning something from a textbook or training session and I believe that this was an invaluable experience for my future work as an astronaut.

Right up until the launch there were repeated meetings and information flew about while solemn progress with preparation was made.

It was only for a short time but I had the opportunity to meet with Astronaut Wakata just before the launch and both his physical condition and state of mind were good and honed and he seemed to be just relaxed enough without being tense.

Come to think of it, the managers and engineers who work there are, of course, serious but there is no air of strained tension, rather, based on confidence backed up by long years of achievement, people work and complete each task that they have to do one by one (unsurprisingly, they looked busy before the launch...).

Some hours after the perfect launch, the Soyuz spacecraft safely docked at the International Space Station. The beer with which we toasted the smiling face of Astronaut Wakata energetically entering the space station through the opened hatch was really delicious!

Incidentally, in the space industry, the Russian-style toast (it probably comes from an army custom?) is “три (tree) (3), четыре (che-ti-ryeh), hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” and then everyone drinks a shot glass of vodka.

Regardless of whether they were American, Russian or Japanese and whether they could understand each other or not, everyone was smiling and enthusiastic saying, “That was great!” and “It was a great success!” I was reminded once again of how wonderful space development really is!

Photos: JAXA/NASA/Bill Ingalls

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