Three of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s astronauts got together for their first roundtable discussion organized by The Yomiuri Shimbun at the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. At this friendly meeting, the three men — Kimiya Yui, 47; Takuya Onishi, 41; and Norishige Kanai, 40, who are called “the new generation of astronauts” — spoke about a wide range of subjects, from their experiences and trials while staying at the International Space Station (ISS) to the future of Japan’s space development.
Kanai’s launch coming up
The Yomiuri Shimbun: Mr. Kanai, you are taking off for outer space this autumn. How’s your preparation going?
Kanai: It’s going smoothly. I’m getting advice from Yui and Onishi. But there is a lot of pressure since the two of them have raised the bar by doing such good work.
Yui: At the press conference [just before this], you said that you’ll “do better work than Onishi and Yui.” You’re very confident.
Onishi: I suppose you’re feeling a lot of pressure because you’re the last runner. Yui and I are entrusting you with all of our experience, so I’m sure you’ll do a good job.
Kanai: The bar just got a little higher, didn’t it? The two of you are former pilots and show great skill in operating the spaceship and other missions. I can’t compete with you in that field. I hope I can make other efforts as a doctor, which is an area I’m better in.
Onishi: That’s really important. Because it’s key for astronauts to make use of their individuality and strengths, and for the crew as a whole to demonstrate good performance.
Kanai: Onishi is able to bring out the best in everyone and demonstrate his own ability too.
Onishi: That’s the technique of a passenger aircraft pilot. But there are also times when for safety reasons you absolutely can’t compromise. I admire Kanai’s strength of conviction.
Yui: Kanai treats the fundamentals as vital. I prefer practical application, so I’m the exact opposite. Prioritizing the fundamentals carries over into all of the jobs at the ISS.
Yomiuri: Mr. Yui and Mr. Onishi, what impressed you while you were in outer space?
Yui: The beauty of the Earth and the stars. I tried to share that somehow with everyone in Japan.
Onishi: The size of the ISS when I first saw it from the window of the spaceship. I felt how incredible scientific technology is. That was amazing.
Yui: At first, I could hardly believe it was real.
Kanai: Which made a bigger impression on you, the moment you got to outer space or the moment you got to the ISS?
Yui: I suppose for me it was the ISS.
Onishi: For me it was being put into orbit. I was very moved when I saw the ISS. But when you get inside, it’s the same as in training, and doesn’t feel so new.
Kanai: It’s difficult to imagine how I’ll feel about space once I’m there. I think to myself, “Am I really going there?”
Onishi: That feeling won’t disappear until right before you launch.
Yui: I think experiencing zero gravity will be confusing at first, because that’s the one thing you can’t train for.
Yomiuri: There have been Japanese astronauts for a quarter of a century now.
Onishi: Building up know-how and experience is important for space development. We kept mice in the Japanese experiment module Kibo, but could JAXA have done that 10 years ago? The answer is no. We have been raising our level [continuously] on land, too, and if we stop, it will all come to nothing.
Kanai: My predecessors built up experience abroad while being asked by others there, “Can Japan really do space development?” I would like to show everyone mature Japanese space development.
Yomiuri: There is criticism of the ISS plan, which Japan is spending approximately ¥35 billion to ¥40 billion a year on.
Yui: The plan is producing results, so I would like to make it easy for everyone to see those results. The budget is helping foster Japan’s space development technology and also helping Japan to be trusted by other countries. As a former member of the Self-Defense Forces, what I feel most is the contribution being made toward peace. When I was at the ISS, there were serious political problems between the United States and Russia, but in space we respected and cooperated with each other. If we could bring that method back home, the Earth would be an easier place to live on.
Yomiuri: What did you think of China’s manned space launch?
Onishi: I was in the ISS and the commander said, “We are not alone!” I was moved by the fact that people from a different spaceship had come into the same orbit as us.
Yomiuri: How should Japan deal with its manned spacecraft launch?
Onishi: Being a former pilot, I would like to go into space operating a rocket and spaceship made in Japan. However, the truth is that the future of space development lies in each country cooperating with one another. It is necessary to involve other countries … (read more)
via The Japan News