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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, November, 2013

Last Updated: January 20, 2014

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

Astronaut Koichi Wakata commences his ISS Expedition mission

Wakata and 37S crew boarding the Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft (Credit: JAXA/NASA/Bill Ingalls)

On November 7, the Soyuz TMA-11M (37S) spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying Astronaut Koichi Wakata and his crewmates of the Expedition 38/39 mission. They commenced their long-duration mission on the same day.

JAXA astronauts supported Wakata's launch in various ways.

A few days before the launch, Astronauts Satoshi Furukawa, Akihiko Hoshide, and Norishige Kanai gathered at the Baiknur Cosmodrome to engage in launch support tasks. Representing JAXA astronauts, Furukawa attended the readiness review and technical interchange meeting and served as a coordinater for related agencies. Hoshide and Kanai gave support to Wakata's family and other related people and served as the contact person for the press. On the launch day in Japan, Astronaut Noguchi gave a technical explanation of launch status to related parties.

Currently, Wakata is working energetically on his mission.

Wakata preparing for CubeSat transfer (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

On November 19 and 20, CubeSats were released from the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo."

Wakata worked on the CubeSat transfer operation from Kibo's pressurized module to outside the ISS through Kibo's airlock and worked together with the JAXA Flight Control Team (JFCT) on the ground and to release CubeSats in orbit.

On Kibo's PM, Wakata prepared for the "Aniso Tubule" experiment (Roles of cortical microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins in gravity-induced growth modification of plant stems) and set up grown Thale Cress or Arabidopsis thaliana so that the gournd team can observe the results. This experiment aims to elucidate the whole mechanism of how a plant grows while registing gravity.

Wakata, as a subject for the JAXA medical experiment "Biological Rhythms 48", wore a Holter electrocardiograph for 48 hours for measurements. He is also conducting medical experiments for NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

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

Continuing on from October, Astronaut Kimiya Yui, a crew member for the ISS Expedition 44/45 mission, underwent training for the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS Russian segment at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).


Yui (back) and Kononenko (foreground) were trained in the Soyuz spacecraft simulator (Credit: JAXA/GCTC)

During Soyuz spacecraft training in the full-scale Soyuz simulator, Yui practiced how to be prepared for various failures and how to conduct manual docking to the ISS and hardware operations referring to operational procedures with a Sokol spacesuit on.

During the Russian training segment, he was trained in computer and equipment control systems and ISS attitude and orbit control systems.

Astronaut Takuya Onishi held a press conference about his assignment to an ISS long-duration mission


Onishi speaks at the press conference (Credit: JAXA)

On November 29, JAXA announced that Astronaut Takuya Onishi had been assigned as a crew member of the ISS Expedition 48/49 mission.

Onishi will commence his stay on the ISS for about six months from around June 2016 as a flight engineer of Expedition 48/49.

On the same day as the announcement, a press conference was held connecting Houston where Onishi is now and the JAXA Tokyo Office via a TV conference system.

During the press conference, Onishi stated his aspirations for the mission and his gratitude to all related parties. During the Q&A session at the end of the conference, he answered questions from the press.

Astronaut Takuya Onishi Selected as Member of ISS Expedition Crew

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

Hello everyone!

And congratulations to Mr Onishi on his assignment to a long-duration mission!

I am really happy that one of the people from the group in which I was also selected in 2009 has been given an assignment! I hope that I can continue to work hard and cooperate with Mr Onishi in the future!

Anyway, I hear that ‘Bai-gaeshi (repaying twofold)’ was a buzzword in Japan this year. This is probably an inspiration. Yes! This is a ‘twofold repayment’ to Mr Onishi who introduced me last year!

What I remember most about meeting Mr Onishi was what happened at the final selection stage. It seems that Mr Onishi’s first impression of me was that I look like a sleepy middle-aged guy and my first impression of him was quite similar ? an ordinary, handsome pilot! However, after that, I heard that he has a brilliant mind and I got the impression that he is one of the few people in the world who is blessed with real talent.

Do you know the reason why Mr Onishi was selected? The first thing that probably comes to mind is because he is an entertainer! People who saw the selection test programmes or books will know about the ‘one-man opera’ that Mr Onishi performed in one of the tasks given in the closed-environment tests. It is difficult to explain the whole story but it is true that my impression of Mr Onishi changed with that task. I cried when I saw that opera, too. (But probably the reason that I cried was because I was starved of entertainment due to being in a special closed environment...)

However, Mr Onishi’s appeal is, of course, not just his abilities as an entertainer. He is actually really great at followership and supporting others.  During the selection tests, I was in the same group as Mr Onishi a number of times and we did tasks and debates together and he supported whoever showed leadership in these groups in a very subtle way. When Mr Onishi said to the person showing leadership, ‘Yes, I think that will work,’ and so on, they were able to relax and execute their plan as a leader and when he said something like, ‘No, that’s not going to work! If you change that, it will change the whole goal and it will all go wrong!’, it was very helpful as he cut straight to the chase! (If he had been born in a different time, he would have been a great warfare strategist.)

Moreover, he is good at human relations and his ability to be unreserved and talk to all different kinds of people is quite incredible. It is easy to see that he has the trust of many different people during training at NASA. At the press conference about his assignment to a long-duration mission, Mr Onishi made a comment that he would like to be an astronaut who is familiar to many people but with Mr Onishi’s abilities, it shouldn’t be too difficult! And because he is handsome, we can expect that his activities will further women’s interest in space ? ha ha! Meanwhile, I will work hard in a different field to become a middle-aged star if at all possible!

Well, up until now, this has been a regular, routine story so let’s get to the inside story that everyone has been waiting for.

During the selections tests, I came to have a real affinity with Mr Onishi from a particular time onwards. Why was this? It was because both myself and Mr Onishi are hopeless at drawing. When we were given the task of expressing our lives in a closed environment in pictures ? my least favourite task ? I glanced over at Mr Onishi and saw that he was having a pretty hard time, too. It was clear when we saw the finished pieces that my drawing and Mr Onishi’s drawing looked as if they had been drawn by pre-schoolers. Furthermore, I remember that, in the paper crane folding task, we didn’t finish within the designated time and it was me and Mr Onishi who were struggling to find time to finish the folding right up to the end. (FYI: Mr Kanai was really great at the paper and origami tasks. His work was quick and beautiful ? the opposite of me and Mr Onishi...)

If the ability to draw well and such like were very important, probably neither Mr Onishi nor I would have been selected. However, the big difference between me and Mr Onishi is that Mr Onishi has a sensibility for the arts. He watches opera and films of various different genres and listens to a lot of music and when you go out to eat with him, he demonstrates his skills as a critic. And at those times he has a peculiar fixation that is unique! For example, if you get him to comment on his favourite scenes from his favourite movies, he can easily talk for an hour! And what is worse, these are scenes that only a real film buff would notice, scenes that ordinary people don’t even remember! Once his commentary starts, my speciality of ‘in one ear and out the other’ combined with ‘making the appropriate noises’ kicks in! (I am often reproached after the fact - ‘Mr Yui! Remember you said it was amazing, too! Don’t you remember?’)

Now that I have started to write about Mr Onishi, a lot of different memories come to mind and, frankly, there is no lack of subjects to talk about. Mr Onishi is a really good friend of mine and a person who I trust implicitly as well as a rival with whom I can have friendly competition. We are so close that it seems that sometimes my wife gets a bit jealous! The other day, we went to eat Chinese food together at lunchtime and a group of astronauts wives spotted us and had reported the lunch to my wife by that evening!

Me: I’m home!
Wife: Welcome home! I want to go and eat Chinese food sometime soon…Yes, yes. XX restaurant!
Me: Sure. (Oops, I already went this lunchtime. Do I have to go again tomorrow?)
Wife: (smirking) I heard you were having a great time chatting with Mr Onishi! You really are good friends, aren’t you!
Me: (Wow. She already knows!)

I once again realised the power of the women’s network!

Mr Onishi! Let’s go for lunch again ? making sure that we don’t put the restaurant out of business! I can give you instruction on the important points of training in Russia!

Once again, congratulations! Let’s both work hard together!


This photo was taken just after we were selected as astronaut candidates! Wow ? handsome pilots, just as you would expect! Mr Onishi has a great smile, doesn’t he! Incidentally, we don’t look anything alike but it seems that Americans have some difficulty in telling us apart as I am often mistaken for Mr Onishi. What a privilege! (In actual fact, our names, Takuya and Kimiya, are similar and we have had similar careers as pilots so it is easy to mistake us for each other.)

*Photo: JAXA

There are not many people who receive one phone call that changes their life during their lifetime. I have had three of these in my 37 years on this earth.

The first time was when I was in 4th year at university. I got a call from the HR manager at my old company saying that I had a provisional offer for acceptance as a pilot trainee. The second time was in February, 2009. I received a call from the JAXA astronaut candidate selection test contact person to say that I had an offer for acceptance as an astronaut candidate.

And the third phone call was not so long ago on the morning of the 28th of November in the US. It was from my boss, Flight Crew Operations and Technology Department, to tell me,

‘Your stay as part of the long-duration crew for the Expedition 48/49 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) planned for 2016 has been officially accepted internationally.’

It is four and a half years since I started working at JAXA and I have spent all my time training with the goal of a long-duration mission to the ISS so this phone call can, in a sense, be said to be on the borderline of the same vector of life. This means that, compared to the two previous phone calls that greatly changed the direction of the vector itself, the nature of this call is a little different but, all the same, it is very significant to me in the fact that it gives my future, which was vague up until now, a concrete shape.

Now that I have a specific, fixed goal and that the things I have to do have become clear, my life in the future is probably going to be a lot more simple.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, both private and public, who has lent their support to my training and lifestyle. My assignment to this mission would not have been possible with my own efforts alone. I would like to say thank you very much to the instructors who taught me during training, the many people who worked hard on international coordination and the people who support JAXA in their everyday lives. I am going to continue to work hard on my training so that I can do even a little good work towards increasing the utilization results of future ISS missions.

Well, there is one more thing I would like to write about this month. This is about a current issue on the ISS. It has been reported in the media so many of you may already know about it.

One of the two external cooling systems on the ISS stopped working on 11th December. It stopped because the temperature of the ammonia in the system was too low.

Before I tell you about this issue, I probably need to explain a little about the importance of cooling systems on the ISS. The ISS is a huge assembly of systems but there are three that are very important. These are the life support system, the electric power system and the cooling system.

The life support system circulates the air, adjusts the temperature, produces oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the air so that we astronauts can live and work on the ISS. Just as the name suggests, it is a system that is required so that people can stay alive.

And as this equipment, the equipment that is used in experiments and every other single device require electricity, naturally, it is the electric power system that provides this. It is for this reason that the ISS uses huge solar panels. Everyone uses electricity at home so you will easily be able to imagine the importance of the electric power system.

On the ISS, the only other system that cannot be isolated from the electric power system is, in actual fact, the cooling system. This is because mechanisms create and use electricity and therefore also create heat. And if this heat is not adequately removed, devices overheat.

The electric power system and the cooling system are two sides of the same coin and their mutual existence is required if they are to operate normally together. If electrical equipment does not have a cooling device, it will break and if the cooling device doesn’t have electricity, it won’t even work.

It is not surprising that these two core systems that support the ISS have multiple back-up systems. This is why there are two independent external cooling systems on the ISS.

External here refers to the cooling system for the equipment which is installed outside the ISS. Of course, there is also an internal cooling system which cools equipment in the interior of the ISS. The heat that gathers in the internal cooling system is transferred to the external cooling system with a heat exchanger and it is ‘dumped’ into space from a radiator panel that juts out into space.

The external cooling system uses ammonia. Compared with water, etc., this conducts heat more effectively but, on the other hand, it is a substance that is harmful to the human body. The phenomenon that occurred on 11th December when the system itself automatically stopped was due to the temperature of this ammonia being too low. Astronauts are not in danger if the No.1 cooling system stops working but there is a great impact on the ISS systems. For this reason, it can be said to be an extremely routine malfunction dealt with in controller training on the ground and controllers have done a lot of training over the years in dealing with this so this time, the ground control team followed a fixed procedure for the malfunction and the cooling system was soon re-booted.

In actual fact, the re-boot was successful.

However, the temperature of the ammonia was still low. If it stayed this way, it would not be possible to transfer heat between the external and internal cooling systems. This is because water is used instead of ammonia in the internal cooling system in consideration of human safety and there was concern that the cooling water would freeze due to the very low ammonia temperature.

NASA engineers investigated the cause of this and as a result they realized that there was a malfunction in the pump device that circulates the ammonia. To be more specific, one of the valves in this device had stopped doing what it was supposed to do. To give a simple explanation, this valve controls the amount of ammonia that flows into the radiator panel. Through this, the amount of heat radiated is controlled, in other words, the temperature of the ammonia in the system overall is controlled but this valve would only close to a certain point. Due to this, more ammonia than was necessary was flowing into the radiator and there was more heat radiation than was necessary.

After the cause was determined, there was a huge discussion on how to solve the issue. However, unfortunately, there is no way to correct the movement of the valve itself and instead, there was a proposal to control the temperature of the ammonia by adjusting the apertures of other valves. The ground control team tried a number of things by repeated trial and error but, unfortunately, these valves were not originally created for this purpose so it was not possible to make any headway with a solution.

Since the problem occurred, NASA has hypothesized the replacement of the pump device itself through extravehicular activity if it was not possible to restore the system and has made preparations for this in parallel with measures against the malfunction. In addition, simultaneously, in preparation for the worst-case scenario that the other cooling system also stops, this approach has also been discussed a number of times.

Then on Tuesday, 17th December, the ISS programme made the decision to conduct extravehicular activity to replace the pump device. At this stage, it is estimated that two or maybe three extravehicular activities will be required, depending on how the work progresses and the first of these is scheduled to be performed on Saturday 21st.

The extravehicular activity will be performed by 2 American astronauts but Astronaut Wakata will be lending his support from inside the ISS as a robot arm specialist. Furthermore, Astronaut Hoshide is scheduled to participate as a communicator with the ISS in the ground control team and the activities of the two Japanese astronauts are much anticipated in the solution of this situation.

The ISS can be said to be a huge system that is the embodiment of human science and technology but since it was created by humans, it is inevitable that there will be some malfunctions. It is a shame that this malfunction should occur but we should be able to learn a lot from it. I believe that this will be reflected in new system designs in the future and that it will be useful for future space development.


Astronaut Rick Mastracchio conducting an inspection of EVA suits in preparation for extravehicular activity


The other day, I received the robot arm operator qualification for which I underwent training in Canada in September. After that, from November, I have continued with the robot arm training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In Canada I learned the basics of the robot arm called Canada Arm 2 which is installed on the space station. I learned everything from scratch such as how it moves, how to deal with malfunctions and what the method of operation is.

Meanwhile, since I have been back in Houston, the training has been based on the basic knowledge that I learned in Canada: ① extravehicular activity support for astronauts wearing space suits on the tip of the robot arm and ② catching hold of spacecraft such as Kounotori with the robot arm (we call this capturing).

The thing that surprised me about the training in Houston was that the training methods are completely different from those that were used in Canada.

The training in Canada started with training in the classroom where we learned the basics. After that, we actually operated the arm in a simulator with the instructor. When we got used to it, we repeatedly practiced operation on our own and then we had an exam at the end. It is the same style as going to a driving school.

Young people these days dismiss the ‘manual generation’ but I am a typical ‘manual’ person so I get really into studying when someone teaches me the details of something...’you do this, then you do that...’ I can usually get a good score on the test if I can properly implement the things that I have learned depending on the situation so I feel like the more I study, the better the results I can obtain.

On the other hand, the atmosphere of the training since I came back to Houston is totally different.

I was given a manual like the ones used on the space station and all the instructor said was, ‘OK. I’ll watch you so off you go. You learned the basics in Canada so you should be fine.’

I have learned the basics of the procedures to operate the robot arm but this was the first time that I had suddenly had to work in a scenario which is close to the actual space station operation.

As it would be a huge disaster if the massive 17m long robot arm collided with the space station, I moved the arm timidly, checking safety over and over again.

Then the instructor piled on the pressure saying, ‘You have to finish within an hour. If you keep going at this pace, you won’t finish. You have to get a move on, hurry up.’

While I was conscious of safety and was operating the arm so that it did not get too close to the space station, the astronaut who was conducting the extravehicular activity (this was only the instructor acting, though) took me on purpose into difficulty saying things like, ‘If you don’t get the arm a little closer, I won’t be able to reach.’

It’s probably not just me ? I think people in general don’t like to fail so they are prone to behaviour that avoids this as much as possible.

However, in the training at Houston, the process of purposely not giving detailed explanations, piling on the pressure, sometimes expressly taking the students into difficulty and intentionally making the students fail in order to learn from that failure seems to be regarded as valuable.

After each training session (usually after having made some kind of mistake or other), there is a strict debriefing about what went wrong and what I should be careful of so I am often a bit down and think that I really am no good at this.

You have to establish your own style so that you don’t repeat the mistakes that you have been picked up on but, since there is no basic ‘this is how you do it’, it is difficult but also interesting. Compared to the Canadian-style training, I feel that it is a little more difficult as I get the impression that things are influenced by individual temperament and creativity.

Incidentally, it is not only astronauts that train in this way with settings of difficult conditions that could not actually occur in reality, I think the ground controllers probably go through the same kind of training.

During simulations, equipment failures and malfunctions occur one after the other and we have to make the mission succeed by protecting the space station and the spacecraft. With a superior controller team, it is possible to recover well from a number of malfunctions and achieve the mission but a number of times I have seen the training ‘crew’ (the people who participate in the training as controllers along with the instructor) enveloped in a heavy, dark mood which pervades the whole control centre when it has not been possible to deal well with the difficulties by the end of the training.

It can be surmised that there is a strong concept in the foundation of this that it is not a bad thing to fail in training and that it is important to obtain opportunities to learn about what to do the next time so that you don’t fail.

I had never experienced this type of education before so I felt stressed every time I made a mistake on the one hand, but on the other, it piqued my interest as a pretty interesting educational method.

I wonder if it is a particularly American method or if it is particular to the space development industry?

This is a personal experience but I have been trained in a different manner in the past, in neither of the above Canadian or Houston styles.

It was a fairly long time ago but it started at the time when I started studying to be a surgeon when I had to watch the way someone did something and copy it. At first when you participate in operations, you are not allowed to actually do anything. You only watch the way the instructor or your senior surgeons perform the operations. Every time you are assigned to an operation, you study the procedure in the textbook, do repeated image training and after a year or two, you are allowed to help and do simple procedures.

Because you are continuing to observe, study and do image training, it is possible to achieve something after a fashion, even if it is the first time you are actually doing it. When you become good at one thing, you are told, ‘OK. Next time, you can try such and such,’ and you are put in charge of a different procedure. In this way, things that you are able to do increase incrementally and, in the end, you are able to perform even complicated major operations from beginning to end all by yourself.

I think this is probably a Japanese (?) approach, similar to the apprentice system for artisans. There is a Japanese proverb that goes, ‘learn the rules before you break them’ but I have the feeling that learning by copying my teachers and seniors and establishing my own style gradually agrees with my character.

But in the end, there no correct education method or training style. As long as students can learn the required skills...

As a new astronaut, my work is to learn skills and knowledge through training but as I come into contact, in this way, with various methodologies, I have come to think of them as interesting.

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