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Astronaut Shines as JAXA’s First to Live in Space
Excitement is building for the upcoming STS-119 mission to the International Space Station, especially within Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. The S6 truss and solar arrays will be delivered, as well as Koichi Wakata, JAXA’s first astronaut to live and work on the orbiting laboratory.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata Astronaut Koichi Wakata practices for the launch of space shuttle Discovery during a countdown dress rehearsal at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Wakata is also trained to fly in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft which are docked at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

“This is a very big milestone for Japan’s government, as well as for the Japanese people,” Hiroki Furihata, deputy director of the JAXA liaison office at Kennedy Space Center said. “The JAXA engineers working on the Kibo elements for a future mission are excited, as well.”

During the STS-119 mission, Wakata will transfer to the station and replace NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus as Expedition 18 flight engineer. Magnus will return to Earth aboard Discovery.

Wakata will spend about three months on the station. During the mission he will operate the station’s robotic arm to help install the S6 truss and solar arrays to the S5 truss already on the station. These fourth and final set of solar array wings will complete the station’s truss, or backbone, and provide enough electricity to fully power science experiments in the Columbus and Japanese Kibo laboratories.

Furihata said he has known Wakata for several years and had the opportunity to work with him during design and testing of the Kibo Pressurized Module and Japanese Experiment Module.

Minako Holdrum, an assistant to Furihata, said she feels honored to witness Wakata’s launch aboard Discovery.

“I think I’m the only JAXA worker who’s been here to see all the Japanese astronauts launch from Kennedy,” Holdrum said. “Wakata and I are close in age, so it feels very much like one of my classmates is achieving this ‘first’ for the Japanese people and the country.”

Wakata is no stranger to spaceflight. He flew as the first Japanese mission specialist on Endeavour’s STS-72 mission in January 1996.

The six-member crew retrieved the Space Flyer Unit that launched from Japan 10 months earlier, deployed and retrieved the OAST-Flyer, and conducted two spacewalks to demonstrate and evaluate techniques to be used in the assembly of the International Space Station.

Wakata also was the first Japanese astronaut to work on space station assembly during Discovery’s STS-92 mission in October 2000.

During the 13-day mission, the seven-member crew attached the Z1 truss and Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 to the station using Discovery’s robotic arm and performed four spacewalks to configure those elements. That expansion opened the door for future assembly missions and prepared the station for its first resident crew.

Wakata is not the first Japanese person to fly aboard a space shuttle. Though not an astronaut, Dr. Mamoru Mohri flew aboard Endeavour as a payload specialist on mission STS-47 in September 1992.

The first-ever Japanese person to fly in space was a journalist, Toyohiro Akiyama, on a Soyuz spacecraft to the Russian Mir Space Station in December 1990.

The first Japanese astronaut to conduct a spacewalk was Dr. Takao Doi, on Columbia’s STS-87 mission in November 1997.

To help Wakata feel at home on Discovery and the space station, JAXA will provide Japanese meals and snacks, such as ramen noodles, egg drop soup and oolong and green teas.

“I am very fortunate. I feel just lucky to be able to serve as a crew member to complete the assembly of the International Space Station. When I became an astronaut 16 years ago, I always dreamed of working on the assembly of the Kibo module and staying aboard the International Space Station. So, for me, this is really a dream come true,” Wakata said.

Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center