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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, January, 2014

Last Updated: April 1, 2014

This is JAXA's Japanese astronaut primary activity report for January, 2014

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

Astronaut Kimiya Yui, who was assigned as a crew member for the Expedition 44/45 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) underwent training for this long-duration mission at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) at the beginning of January, and then at the GCTC in the second half of the month.

At the JSC, Yui trained for Extravehicular Activity (EVA). As a part of the training, he checked how to secure himself while he uses EVA tools. For this training, Yui was suspended by a crane to simulate operations in weightlessness. In this position, Yui tightened bolts using EVA tools using one hand while holding a handrail with the other hand so that he did not rotate in tandem with his movements. In addition, with a training spacesuit on, Yui dived in a pool containing a submerged full-scale ISS mockup and simulated replacement operations on exposed equipment installed on the ISS.

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Yui (left) furling a parachute (Credit: JAXA/GCTC)

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Yui (left) and other participants pose for a photo in front of the shelter they have built (Credit: JAXA/GCTC)

At the GCTC, along with Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Soyuz Commander for this mission, Yui simulated a series of operations from launch preparation to docking with the ISS. They boarded a Soyuz simulator wearing Sokol spacesuits and practiced preparations for emergencies such as fire and sudden depressurization.

Yui also trained for manual flight operation of the Soyuz spacecraft.

In addition, a plaster cast of Yui was made in order to create his own personal seat liner for the Soyuz spacecraft. Yui also practiced using the Environment Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) including the galley and toilet of the Russian segment. From January 27-29, local time, Yui and his future crewmates, Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren underwent outdoor winter survival training at the GCTC.

This training is held in the event that the Soyuz spacecraft is forced to make an emergency landing, and it aims to help participants learn survival skills by cooperating for a few days of outdoor life in a severe environment. The training was held for two nights and three days because when the Soyuz spacecraft is forced to touch down at an unpredictable location, it may require two or three days to conduct search and rescue operations.

The trio set up a shelter using the spacecraft's parachute and wood, made a fire, contacted the rescue team, and ignited a flare.

Astronaut Takuya Onishi starts his training for a long-duration ISS mission

Astronaut Takuya Onishi, who was assigned as a long-duration crew member for the ISS Expedition 48/49 mission, started his full training for a long-duration ISS mission.

In addition to the major systems of the ISS including Command and Data Handling (C&DH), Thermal Control System (TCS), and Electrical Power System (EPS), Onishi was trained for the Inventory Management System (IMS), a system for recording and managing goods on the ISS and also for the US toilet.  

Onishi continues T-38 flight training as part of pre-flight training.

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Onishi (left) and other trainees pose after T-38 flight training (Credit:JAXA/NASA)

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T-38 jet trainers making a formation flight (Onishi was sitting on the back seat of the plane in the foreground) (Credit:JAXA/NASA)

Chiaki Mukai and Satoshi Furukawa attend Astronaut Koichi Wakata's ISS medical communication event

A communication event entitled "Space and Exercise" on the theme of the importance of continuing exercise for a healthy life was held at the Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC) on January 21, connecting Astronaut Koichi Wakata on the ISS with the TKSC.

Astronauts Chiaki Mukai and Satoshi Furukawa attended the event on the ground.

Prior to the communication with Wakata, Furukawa gave a lecture to health promotion organizations and children participating in Mission X. Using pictures and video, he discussed body changes that occur in space, exercising methods in space, and the importance of doing exercise.

Mukai acted as MC during the communication with Wakata.

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Furukawa speaking to the audience (Credit: JAXA)

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Communication event with Wakata (Credit: JAXA)

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Mukai acting as MC (Credit: JAXA)



New Astronauts at the Front-Line

Hello everyone!

This month I am going to continue on from last time with the story of how I became a test pilot. To be honest, what follows is almost identical to what I wrote in my Russian-language autobiography. When I had finished writing this in Russian, my Russian teacher’s comment was: ‘You haven’t written anything about your love life! You can tell me about that next time!’ I wonder if there will ever come a time when I write about my love life in this journal. Well, even if I did write about it, it wouldn’t take very long because I don’t have much experience...

Anyway, let’s get back to the story.

When I was sent to the US contrary to my own wishes, I wondered how I always managed to end up on the difficult path against my own intentions. But it was decided, there was nothing I could do about it. I started studying English really hard. After studying English for about two months in Japan, I left for the US. If you think you would be able to speak English no problem after two months of studying, you would be totally wrong. After I arrived in the US, I couldn’t even manage to order myself a hamburger! That was how I started my life there! I went to a language school in the US under these conditions but I only had 2 months until the start of flight training. When you are learning a language, 2 months is very short but it was a very significant period from other aspects. I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit the Johnson Space Center during a training weekend! Since I was little, I had always been interested in space and I found everything very interesting and even though I didn’t understand English, I remember looking around really diligently. The two things that impressed me in particular were the enormity of the Saturn rocket and the fact that the US had already sent men to the moon before I was even born. From this point on I really felt the national power of the US and thought that it was a country that we should never fight against in the future (I was a member of the Self-Defense Force so I often thought of military security guarantees).

My two months of language training in the US was over in a flash and I began flight training for the T-38. I had a really hard time during the training with my low level of English! Here is an example. When communicating with the air-traffic controller, you use the phrase, ‘Say again’ when the other person says something you don’t understand. One day, I was alone in a T-38 (solo flight training), heading towards the training area.

Me: Memphis center. Lancer ○○FL240. (I had reached 24000 feet and was leveling off)

Controller: ○○××△△

??!! (I have no idea what he said...I’ll get it this time) Say again?

Controller: ………Say again?

Me: !?!? (Oh no!) Say again?

Controller: ………Sorry…I don't understand you.

Me: (Oh no! Oh no! Help! Help!) Disregard...

Controller: ………Roger…

There is no way that flight training is going to go smoothly under these conditions! I devoted all my energy to English and flight training. Even when I was in the bath or bed, I was reading aircraft manuals and I worked on memorizing what was written there.

Thanks to these efforts, mutual understanding started to go a little bit better, at least for English that used terms from US army manuals.

When I managed to get to the stage in my training in the US where it looked like I would be able to obtain the wing mark which was the mark of a pilot, a new type of training started. After completing T-38 training, we had to move on a trial of the fighter jet operation course using AT-38 in the US! No Japanese person had ever taken this course before so there was no one I could ask when I didn’t understand as I had done in the past. I got more and more anxious as I thought about how hard things were going to get on this course. And on top of that, in order to participate in the fighter jet operation training, I had to go through g-force resistance training again. The result of trying my hardest during g-force resistance training was:

Situation during training

Operator: 2g…3g……

Me:「Grayout! (when the blood supply to your brain is insufficient and you can no longer see colours, only black and white) Hook, hook, hook… (Starting a special breathing method in which you strain your lower body and stomach. The blood then flows back into your brain and you can see colours again.)

Operator: 4g…5g…6g…

Me: Hook. Hook. (This is not good. I’ve lost the colors in my sight again. I have to try harder!) Hook…no, it’s no good. I can’t see what’s in front of me! (This is known as a black out. You are still conscious and your eyes are open but there is not enough blood supply and you can’t see out of your eyes. Everything goes black. This is the stage just before losing consciousness!)

Then I lost consciousness!! The operator pushed the emergency stop button and a loud buzzer began to sound.

Operator: Kimiya! Kimiya! Are you OK? Are you OK?

Quite a few seconds later.

Me: (jittery ? moving in spasms, I open my eyes) What? Em… (my brain wasn’t working properly for a while so I didn’t comprehend the situation and I was talking in Japanese!)

Operator: Kimiya! Kimiya! Are you OK?

30 seconds after losing consciousness:

Me: (suddenly understanding the situation) Oh!! I'm sorry! Yeah! I'm alright! I'm so sorry!

Operator: That's alright...

Me: (I lost consciousness again this time. Not to mention my neck really, really hurts due to whiplash.)

As you would expect, I totally lost my confidence after this third time and I started to think that I had made a mistake in trying to become a fighter pilot.

Meanwhile, it was at this point that I discovered a movie that would influence my life. I was at a rental store looking for a movie to watch on my day off when I came across a box with astronauts wearing spacesuits and a small spacecraft on it. It was The Right Stuff about test pilots who tested the limits of the performance of aircraft. And it was a story about these pilots, who have the ‘right stuff’ (fair and superior temperament/accomplishments) working towards manned space flight. At that time, along with coming into contact with the job of test pilot for the first time, I also thought that maybe Japan would need test pilots for manned space flight in the future. I came to think that if I became a test pilot, I would have the possibility of becoming an astronaut through the Self-Defense Force.

The fighter jet operation course with AT-38s in the US was only two months long but I really learned a lot. First of all, I learned that aerial combat is the application of physics! A certain chart which was the first thing we studied on this course became very interesting to me. It was an amazing graph on which you could see aircraft performance at a glance. You could see the turning ratio and circle when turning was performed at a certain speed and a certain number of gs or how kinetic energy was lost. And I realised that it was possible to create this kind of chart as a result of the work of a test pilot. I became really interested in this and after that, compared it to charts for various other aircraft and started to study charts for the fighter jets that I worked on.

On this course I also had the chance to hear lectures from fighter pilots with actual experience of combat. I was able to hear about really valuable experiences such as the psychological state in one’s first experience of combat, the panic when you lose sight of the enemy and what you are thinking when your life is threatened in such a way. Since then, I have also become interested in psychology and have looked for and read books about battle psychology and social psychology. (The difficulties of combat in a fighter jet are not limited to just the difficulties of operating the aircraft. In the operation of ordinary aircraft, you only have to fly with fixed objects such as the horizon or the runway as your references but in combat between fighter jets, you can maneuver freely as you wish with the enemy plane as your reference. During this time both enemy and ally are affected by the laws of physics so both physics and psychology become important.)

My experience in the US and the skills I learned there all greatly changed my life as a member of the Self-Defense Force as well as my own personal life. Among these, the biggest change was that, from then on, I aimed to be a great fighter pilot and then a test pilot and I started to choose the most difficult path of my own free will.

For example, after I returned to Japan, I had the opportunity to submit my wishes for which fighter I would fly. I wrote down F-15 of my own bat. (At that time there were three choices: F-1, F-4 and F-15 and F-15 pilots were said to be the best in the world so they were also popular among the students.) Of course, in order to fly an F-15, you have to be able to resist 9gs (nine times the gravitational acceleration of the earth). However, by this time, I had lost consciousness three times. You might think this seemed rash but in order to resist high g-forces such as this, I learned that lower body muscle strength and stamina was essential and I started to run seriously.

I had a clear dream, a clear aim and a clear goal and I was able to focus on my current situation and think about what efforts I should make in order to breach the gap between it and these dreams and goals, continuing to make the necessary efforts.

Then, another important thing happened…

In actual fact, a week before leaving for the US, I had met a cute, bubbly girl. I only saw her twice before going to the US but we wrote to each other while I was away and I proposed to her in a letter from America. I never spent a longer two weeks than the two after I posted the letter with the proposal until I received the reply! I will tell you more about this another time. I will stop here for now!

Next time will be about my training as a fighter jet operator. I will talk in detail about how I came to the final decision to become a test pilot.

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The proposal by letter turned out to be a great success. I got married straight after returning to Japan! People have said to me that I must be a gambler to propose to someone after having met them only twice… Even though we communicated by letter, we didn’t know everything about each other so it was one of the biggest gambles of my life. And the result? Of course, it was also the best gamble of my life!

*Photo: JAXA


It’s now February and the Sochi Olympics have finally started!

I have written about this before but I love watching the Olympics so I am hoping to support all the participants by watching them on TV.

My personal favourites in the Winter Olympics are the ice hockey and the curling. Both the US and Russia are particularly good at ice hockey. Since I am going to be training between both countries from now on, I want them both to do well.

Speaking of the Sochi Olympics, an Olympic torch was aboard the Soyuz spacecraft with Astronaut Wakata and the first ever Olympic torch relay in space took place.

Having said that, it is extremely dangerous to have an actual flame in a spacecraft so it was only the torch part that went into space…

You can watch it in this video uploaded by Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency. I have also watched it and the sight of the torch relay in the International Space Station (ISS) between the Japanese, Italian, American and Russian astronauts was not only sporting but also showed the potential for all the countries of the world to become one in the name of science and I found it deeply moving.

Anyway, let’s turn this right around and get down to this month’s subject which is about the toilets on the ISS. I have just completed training on these.

It’s merely a toilet, but it’s still a toilet.

Many people may worry about the toilet situation when they travel abroad. Toilets in Japan are relatively clean, aren’t they? To be honest, Japanese bidet toilets are popular among the American astronauts. They were quite bewildered at first, before they knew how to use them...

Since I became an astronaut, I have had a lot of training in coping with this kind of thing. I spent almost 10 days in the wilderness on outdoor survival training with no toilets at all. We were not allowed to use toilet paper during this training either as it is not good for the environment. (NB: This does not mean you do not wipe! It’s just that you find substitutes in the nature around you to use.)

What’s more, after that, I spent a week using a ‘toilet in the sea’ during my NEEMO training that was held on the sea bed off the coast of Florida. This means, in fact, just doing it in the sea. I had to relieve myself while fighting off the shoals of fish that gathered around this ‘food’. The fish were pretty amazing. After a few days they seemed to learn that a human coming = getting food but lots and lots of fish swimming around you in the pitch dark ocean at night is not a very nice feeling. I think it was a pretty difficult thing to go through.

Once you have been through these sorts of experiences, there is nothing you are scared of (at least not where toilets are concerned).

Anyway, back to the toilets on the ISS.

At present, there is one toilet in each of the US and Russian quarters on the ISS but the original equipment itself was all made in Russia. However, since the one in the US quarters is connected to the water recycling system, various other devices are installed.

I participated in basic training for the use of this equipment the other day.

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This is a photo of a toilet before its launch but, at a glance, there is not much difference between it and a normal toilet used here on earth, is there?

When you use the toilet in space, contrary to here on earth, you have to be careful of zero gravity. If you don’t think about it, liquids and solids would scatter and we would be in danger of having them floating around all over the place. That is why this toilet has a suction function like a vacuum cleaner to dispose of excretions.

The thing that you see in the middle of the picture serves as a toilet seat. There is also a separate hose with an adapter in the shape of a funnel for urinating.

You can see it hanging straight up and down to the right of the picture. Both the toilet bowl and the hose are connected to fans that that suction air and which suction out excretions.

The toilet has a lid just like those on earth but, during the training, our instructor warned us time and time again not to forget to switch on the fan before opening the lid!

This made me really interested to find out what would happen if you opened the lid before switching on the fan so I asked the instructor who replied that you get blasted with the smell! It goes without saying that I made a strict mental note to switch on the fan before opening the lid!

I wrote earlier that the toilet in the US quarters is connected to the water recycling system.

That’s right. We are currently using ground-breaking technology on the ISS that recycles human urine into drinking water!!

Many of you may know this because there were news reports about when this device was installed with the three astronauts who were on the ISS at the time, one of whom was Astronaut Wakata, making a toast and drinking the water.

So, what do you think of the toilet situation on the ISS?

I really hope that, after reading this, people who wanted to become astronauts don’t give up on the idea!!

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The asdtronaut’s offices at the Johnson Space Center are on the 5th and 6th floors of a six story building and they can be accessed by elevator but one day the above poster appeared on the door to the elevator hall: There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs. You sometimes see such posters at NASA combining both playfulness and depth of meaning. Since seeing this poster, unless I am really in a hurry, I always take the stairs.

*Photos: JAXA/NASA


 
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