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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, February, 2014

Last Updated: April 9, 2014

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

Astronaut Kimiya Yui undergoes training for a long-duration ISS mission in Russia and Japan

Continuing on from January, Astronaut Kimiya Yui, a crew member for the ISS Expedition 44/45 mission, underwent training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) at the beginning of February. In the last half of the month, Yui returned to Japan and conducted training at the Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC).

At the GCTC, training was held for the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS Russian segment. Regarding the Soyuz spacecraft, training was focused on using a simulator. With possible failure of the automated Soyuz rendezvous, docking with the ISS and the undock to reentry operations in mind, Yui learned the manual operations. For the ISS Russian segment, his training focused on the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). Besides, he was trained to be rescued by helicopter in the event the Soyuz spacecraft would be forced to make an emergency landing on water.

At the TKSC, he was trained in the systems of the Japanese Experiment Module, “Kibo.” Subsequently, he checked the operations and failure responses of Kibo’s major systems, including Command and Data Handling (C&DH), Electrical Power System (EPS), Thermal Control System (TCS), and Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS).
In addition, Yui learned about the Kibo’s airlock, JEM Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS), Experiment Support System (ESS), and structures.

Astronaut Takuya Onishi commences his training in Russia for an ISS long-duration mission


Onishi greets GCTC officials at the beginning of the training (Credit: JAXA/GCTC)

From mid-February onwards, Astronaut Takuya Onishi, who was assigned as a long-duration crew member for the ISS Expedition 48/49 mission, commenced training in Russia for his ISS long-duration mission.

The training held in February was focused on the Soyuz spacecraft. Through lectures and practice, Onishi acquired knowledge about the set of control panels installed abreast in front of the seats and the spacecraft structure, internal layout, and flight planning. In addition, he was trained for Onboard Complex Control System, Power Supply System, and Thermal Control System.

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

Hello everyone.

This month, I am finally going to get to the end of the story of how I became a test pilot. If it is well-received, I could maybe continue on with the story up until I became an astronaut candidate.

So, I came back to Japan and finished the fighter jet operations course in a T-2 practice plane without incident and went on to work towards being an F-15 pilot. My next test was...

That’s right! G-force resistance training. Usually on a fighter jet you have to wear a g-suit which is a kind of pair of trousers (?) that increase pressure on the lower body with air pressure (it is said that if you wear these, your g-force resistance improves by about 2 gs). However, during g-force resistance training, you are not allowed to wear a g-suit.

This was the g-force resistance training which I had failed at so many times in the past.... This time, I had to resist 8 gs without a g-suit.... To be completely honest, I was very anxious about it and when I got into the capsule, I had an indescribable felling of tension. When the acceleration started, I could hear the operator’s voice as usual.

Operator: 2g...3g...

Me: Grayout! Hook! Hook...

And up until that point, everything was as usual...

Operator: 3g...4g...5g...

Me: Hook... (Wow, this is hard...but I’m still OK!)

Operator: 6g...7g...

Me: Hook... (It’s still hard...and I’m getting a bit tired...)

Operator: Keep going! 8g...

Me: Hook. (Yes! But if I lose focus now, I’ll faint! I have to keep up my endurance!)

Operator: OK! Deceleration! 7g...6g...5g...4g...Stop!

Me: Yes! I finally managed it!

At the briefing afterwards, I received the comment, ‘The fact that you had a grayout so soon may mean that your actual g-force resistance is low but you managed to tough it out with stamina! Well done!’ At last, I had conquered the g-forces that were such a huge obstacle to me even though they are not such an obstacle to anyone else. (I digress but, the experience of not being able to resists g-forces and having fainted three times was really useful to me in fighter jet operations. Because I knew so much about the stages before you pass out, I could go right to the limit before passing out but never went past that line again.)

So, after the g-force training, I started F-15 flight training. When I was learning about the F-15 model conversion and the basics of combat as a unit, my experience studying overseas really came in handy!

The theory of fighter combat has changed along with advancements in fighter jets but the theory that we had learned in the US was comparatively new in Japan as well and at the time it was called New BFM(Basic Fighter Maneuvers). I had been able to learn the basics of this in the US so it was relatively easy to incorporate into the basics of combat in an F-15. And, my own personal study of psychology was also extremely useful. It may not be for me to say but by learning a good balance of combat theory and psychology, I think I became a pilot with a well-balanced way of thinking.

For example, the performance of aeroplanes or missiles just follows the laws of physics so even if you put your heart into it, you can’t turn any faster or extend the range any further. On the other hand, when the performance of planes improves, it is possible that you may be under the influence of the g-forces that I was so bad at for a long period of time so, from that aspect, if you don’t put your all into it, you cannot get a 100% performance out of the plane. At the time, and even now, in a comparison of the number and performance of the fighter jets in Japan and its neighbouring countries, Japan is in an inferior position so if a pilot did not have the skill to get a 100% performance from the plane, there would be no chance of winning. The training for the fighter jet corps of the Self-Defense Force was really hard going on an everyday basis but I managed to get through it all and became a fighter jet pilot in my own right.

Around that time was an important period for me in which I would choose the next step in my career path. I really wanted to stay in the fighter jet corps but there were so many other different things that I wanted to experience so, to be honest, I agonized over this. Should I stay in the fighter jet corps for a few more years, get the flight experience (hours) that I needed to become a test pilot and then take the test pilot course or should I choose another path? This was when I expressed my wishes to become a training instructor at the National Defense Academy and to go back to my alma mater. This was due to the fact that I had an interest in education as well as the fact that I recognised the importance of education.

The work as a National Defense Academy instructor was one of the most interesting jobs that I had during my time in the Self-Defense Force. On the one hand, I felt awe at the fact that, as an instructor, I could have an influence on the way young people think... and as a result, I started to wonder if I was a suitable person to be an instructor...but if I start writing about this, I won’t get to the end of the story about how I got to be a test pilot so I will leave that for another time.

So, there was a problem with me becoming an instructor at the National Defense Academy. Me, who wanted to be a test pilot. This was because I did not have enough flight experience to become a test pilot. Obviously, when you are an instructor, your number of annual flight hours decreases dramatically. And, unfortunately, it also becomes difficult to improve your flying skills. To be frank, I was not 100% confident that I would become a test pilot. However, a lot of different people gave me advice and I put in for the test pilot course which is one of the most difficult training courses in the Self-Defense Force. I was assigned to the Gifu base. There were 5 people on the course: 3 fighter jet pilots and 2 transporter plane pilots. As I mentioned before, I was the one with the least flight experience. However, frankly, I had continuous problems as the head of the students who was supposed to consolidate the group. Without time to even get my dulled flight intuition back, I began some difficult training and I was up to my eyes just with dealing with myself but as the student leader, I also had to consolidate the group. In this situation, I keenly felt the importance of the team. When I was having a hard time, my colleagues on the test pilot training course always helped me and my family gave me all kinds of support so that I could concentrate on the training. Our instructors were strict but genial and watched over us attentively. It was only with the assistance of many people that I was able to graduate from the difficult test pilot course!

If you are thinking that I got through my training without problem, became a test pilot and was able to go straight into doing test flights then you are mistaken ? life is not a box of chocolates! The Self-Defense Force has a Staff College which has a one year course where you can learn the skills to command a unit or assist a commander. This course is called the Command and Staff Course. Would you believe that I was given the chance to take this course directly after I had graduated from the test pilot course? The problem was that if I took the Command and Staff Course without gaining any experience of the actual work of a test pilot, it would be really difficult to return to Gifu as a test pilot... Yet another thing that I had to agonize over but, in the end, I decided to go on and take the Command and Staff Course. I didn’t want to waste an opportunity to have a new experience.

It is no exaggeration to say that the year I spent on the Command and Staff Course was the year in which I learned the most in my life. I will tell you more about that another time!

Anyway, I managed to overcome the long-standing jinx in the Self-Defense Force that it was not possible to go back to Gifu as a test pilot if you went straight on to the Commander and Staff Course directly after the test pilot course and my passionate wish to return was granted! I was 34 at the time. At last, I had got the chance to work as a test pilot! And this was the start of my ‘Right Stuff’ story from being a ‘Space Turtle (my nickname) ’ test pilot to being an astronaut.

However, on the other hand, when I was selected as an astronaut candidate, someone at JAXA told me that it was rare to find someone with the same amount of different experiences as me. If I had been evaluated for the knowledge and abilities that I had gained from my diverse experience, my ‘Right Stuff’ story probably started when I was 17 and I decided to join the Self-Defense Force. A lot of different things happened to me such as things not working out the way I had originally hoped or the appearance of life choices that I would never have imagined but I think it must have been the fact that I continued to strive never to forget the goals of my life and to be positive that led, in the end, to me obtaining support from other people and producing good results.

Anyway, I have given you a rough outline of how I became a test pilot over three months of my journal. What did you think? To be honest, due to space and time restrictions, there were a lot of things that I couldn’t tell you about. If possible, I would like to write further about these when I get the chance. If you have any requests for things you would like me to write about, please do not hesitate to let me know! I hope we can work together on creating a really great journal!


This is a photo of a Gifu Base T-2 plane. It is no longer used as it has been retired from service. The plane marked 101 was a test plane and was used for diverse tests so it was highly coloured in this way to improve visibility. The Pitot tube (measures the stress of airspeed using the difference between dynamic and static pressure of air flow) that is attached to the nose of the plane is also a standard pitot tube for testing. Every first prototype plane has this Pitot tube attached.

*Photo: JAXA

I am currently in Star City in Russia.

It has just passed midnight so now it is the 14th of March, which is, by the way, the date that this column is supposed to be published. More to the point, the deadline to hand it in was a week ago. The great thing about the connected society in which we live is that it is possible to publish fresh information that has just been written the same day. Please forgive me for the terrible trouble I have caused the people in charge of the JAXA website.

When you hear the name Star City, you may think that this is just a nickname and that the city has another proper name but this is genuinely the name in Russian of this small town.

Star City is located about 30km to the northeast of Moscow. It is such a small town that it only takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other, even if you walk slowly. Around one third of the space in the town is dedicated to the Yuri Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Training Center.

As you can tell from the name, this is the base for astronaut activities in Russia. No matter what their nationality, astronauts who are involved in long duration missions to the International Space Station have to undergo training in Star City for the Soyuz spacecraft and the Russian section of the International Space Station.

The length of the training period depends on what role the astronaut has been assigned but in my case, I was assigned to be the flight engineer on the Soyuz spacecraft flight so I will be spending half of my time until my actual flight here in Star City. A few hours ago, I completed the first session of this training which will be split into a number of different sessions and tomorrow, I will be going back to Houston after a long absence.

As astronauts spend long periods of time here, Star City has a number of NASA-related facilities and three of these make up a facility called NASA cottages. JAXA astronauts are also allowed to use these during training and we live together with the US astronauts. They are called cottages but from a Japanese perspective, they are proper houses with both living rooms and kitchens ? very comfortable.


NASA cottages in Star City

I can say that the only difficulty I have in this town is that there are almost no places where you can go out to eat. There is only one restaurant. Well, it’s more like a cafe.

Of course, we do almost all our own cooking. For dinner we frequently all eat something that someone has cooked together.

For someone like me who doesn’t normally cook, this is EXTREMELY challenging. Or to be more accurate, I should confess that I really mean ‘for someone like me who cannot cook...’ I can hear some of you saying that, in that case, I should just practice but, well, strengths and weaknesses come into it, too....

Let’s just leave it that my excuse not to practice cooking is that I am too busy and don’t have enough time.

Among astronauts who are senior to me, it seems that Mr Noguchi and Mr Furukawa were particularly good at cooking and I often hear older astronauts reminiscing: ‘Soichi used to make us a whole bunch of different things’ or ‘Satoshi’s curry was really good’ ? enough to make me ashamed.

But just as I was feeling ashamed, I heard that that Mr H had about the same level of cooking skills as me and at the time NASA astronauts who flew with him told the shocking story, ‘He couldn't even cook rice. I didn't know there were any Japanese people who couldn't do that!' When I heard this, I felt a lot better.

Thank you, Mr H!

This is a digression but there is a lot of food and condiments in the cottage kitchens but no one has any idea about who left them or when. On the day I arrived in Star City, I thought I would first of all relax with a cup of tea and had a rummage around on the shelves only to find some green tea bags. Taking advantage of this luck, I poured hot water on one of the bags but just as I was about to drink from the cup, I noticed that the tea was dark brown. I have had plenty of experience of green tea turning brown if you leave the bag in for a while but this went brown as soon as I had poured the hot water on it. I thought this was strange so I checked the package thinking that it was maybe hoji-cha (roasted green tea which is brown in colour) and it turned out that the best before date was 2010! Well! I checked the shelves and the refrigerator and found that there were other things lying about that were two or three years out of date. I was suddenly rolling about with laughter at this all by myself.

Anyway, about the Soyuz training.

One of the techniques to tackle training that I learned when I was a pilot was, ‘whatever you do, listen carefully to what people who have already done the training say’

'whatever you do, listen carefully to what people who have already done the training say’.

When I asked a number of people who had already gone through the same flight engineer training in the past before I came to Russia this time, this is what they told me:

‘I don’t mean to frighten you but I’m afraid that you will have a huge study load right from the start. I remember it being similar to cramming to get into university.’ (Astronaut Furukawa)


‘It will be challenging.’ (Astronaut Rick Mastracchio)

Double eek!

‘The first few sessions are pretty hard work!’ (Astronaut Yui)

The worst of them all came from an astronaut candidate training classmate of mine who is preparing for his launch this summer, Astronaut Reid Wiseman.

I spent a lot of time with him during training in the US. He is, so to speak, a genius-type and I was often astonished at how quick-witted he was. Because he is this type of person, he said,

‘The first year is hard-going. Once you get past that and there is more practical training, it gets much easier. But until then, the studying is really hard. Even at the weekend, I was studying all day Sunday.’

I came to Star City about a month ago having braced myself to give my all. My impression after the end of this first session is that it’s true. The studying is really hard.

The month passed so quickly what with the daily reviewing of what I had learned, the preparations for the next day and the preparations for the tests for each system. Nevertheless, I am surprised at the fact that everyone says that the training on Soyuz attitude/operation control and navigations systems that I am going to do next is the highest peak to climb.

The studying itself is interesting as it is a field in which I am interested but I really feel that it is a shame that there are not about 30 hours in a day.

I also had a hectic time in the past when I was training to be a pilot with the everyday studying and the flight preparation but I still remember the words of one of my fellow students when, one day, I was complaining about how hard the training was in his(her) room.

‘Pilot training is only 2 or 3 years. Surely in our long lives we are allowed to have some time when we only think about the same thing from morning till night? ‘

I remember being deeply impressed that a fellow student had such a positive outlook. At that time, I never imagined that another period like that would exist in my life but the Soyuz training is not without end. It may be trite but I am going to work really hard from now on in the idyllic environment of Star City.

*Photo: JAXA

Sometimes people ask me if I am always training or if I have some days off and what I do on the weekend.

Astronaut training is usually scheduled within working hours on weekdays from 8am to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays are usually holidays. This is different for astronauts who have been assigned to missions and who have to travel overseas to Russia, etc. but astronauts like me who have not been assigned to a mission lead a comparatively regular life.

So, what do I do on the weekend? I have a long lie in the morning, clean my house, go to the supermarket ? nothing particularly special.

A lot of my friends advise me to go travelling in the US since I am living here anyway but I have never been that fond of travelling and I have a lot of opportunities to travel to Europe and Russia with my work so that is enough for me and I prefer to just laze around at home.

When people ask me about my interests, I always have a hard time knowing what to say but I have always loved reading. There is no particular genre that I prefer but I do like historical novels or period dramas. Since I am living away from Japan, I may be looking all the more for Japanese subjects.

Novels about master swordsmen who put their warrior’s honour on the line in a duel or stories about human relationships set against the backdrop of the Edo period ? I feel that even if you are living in a different time or a different country, human behaviour and emotions are unchanging.

I feel this all the more when I see at close quarters the work of the JAXA engineers who assert their position at international liaison meetings laying the dignity of their country on the line but who also, behind the scenes, discuss frankly with the people on the ground and manage to finalize things...

As I am such an enthusiast, I sometimes read old books about Japanese martial arts and I feel that there are concepts in the traditional teachings of Japan that I can put into practice in my current work.

For example, there is a concept of continued alertness that is taught in kendo or judo. I understand this as maintaining alertness in your mind and body and not letting anything slide even after you have won. For example, in an important space experiment, rather than being happy that a difficult procedure has been completed and relaxing straight away, telling yourself that the difficult bit is over but taking the time to look back over everything to check for mistakes may prevent a really big failure.

Musashi Miyamoto, the famous master swordsman, writes in his Book of Five Rings, ‘The theories of one-to-one combat are the same as those used in battles between armies,’ and ‘As a master carpenter chooses his materials and tools to create a building using his workers freely, so a general who has learned the martial arts manages his situation well.’>

As reflected in the proverb “He who cannot speak well of his own trade can say nothing“, I feel that technical description, even in other fields, provides me with some invaluable insight along the lines of the work in which I am currently engaged, depending on how I read.

During the Edo period, in the early 17th century, Yagyu Munenori, a grand master of Kendo, a Japanese sword-fighting martial art, who coached the Tokugawa Shoguns, said in his work: “A person who has just started learning Kendo waves his sword just as taught intuitively. However, after some time practicing, he starts to find it difficult to fight because of wondering over difficult techniques to use or master. However, when continuing to practice hard, however, he regains the state of “intuitiveness“ at the start of learning, which allows the use of the sword at will unthinkingly.“

In work to manipulate the robotic arm and perform flight maneuver drills, at which I am still struggling, I am aware of my current situation as reflected in Yagyu’s words: “I find it difficult as I strive harder to use higher techniques with a little gain in learning“ rather than making no progress.

I also learned another phrase from a prewar master of Iaido, a Japanese martial art of sword-drawing: “Any action on the surface comes from the force behind. Visible motions display invisible force behind them indeed.“

“Focus on your left hand when using your right“ or “Mind your leg left behind when stepping forward“ ? these instructions, which may be read like technical theory of technique, can also be understood as messages saying “endeavor over many years lies hidden behind the success of a mission.“

Or it may tell me, “The profession of an astronaut, with the attention of the public, is actually thanks to the contributions of innumerable staff, such as engineers, controllers, instructors, and managers, who dedicate themselves to supporting the safe operation of the ISS.” Recently, as you know, Astronaut Wakata, who has been on a long-duration stay on board the International Space Station, became the first Japanese national to assume command of the ISS.

What he noted in his inaugural speech, namely “I believe that my new role as space station commander is an achievement for Japan and reflects real trust in Japan and what it has achieved over the past years”, impressed me very deeply ,having seen and perceived the commitment of the JAXA staff at the forefront of manned space activities.

He also pledges to “uphold as his principle the Japanese spirit of “Wa”-harmony-representing Japanese spirit”, which also touches me, since it involves the nation of Japan presenting its unique universal values to the world in the field of international cooperation.

As well as daily training, as a Japanese astronaut, I will cherish opportunities to review traditional Japanese values and thinking.

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