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2013年11月12日 (火)

若田ISS船長 宇宙での夢を広げる機会に

The Yomiuri Shimbun November 12, 2013
Wakata and the ISS encourage children to dream of the universe
若田ISS船長 宇宙での夢を広げる機会に(11月10日付・読売社説)

We hope Koichi Wakata will do a wonderful job of carrying out his important duties, which may determine the future of the International Space Station.

Wakata has begun a six-month mission at the ISS, about 400 kilometers above Earth, which will last until next May.

In his final two months, he will serve as the first Japanese ISS commander, with five U.S. and Russian astronauts working with him.

Eight Japanese astronauts have been sent into space so far. In terms of the combined length of their stay in space, including those at the ISS, Japan ranks third after Russia and the United States.

Wakata probably was chosen to serve as the ISS commander because of Japan’s achievements and his own energetic activities on three previous space missions.

Wakata is an excellent pilot and excels at maneuvering a remote-controlled robotic arm. He is highly trusted by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and has gained a reputation as a personality who values teamwork.

In the past, ISS commanders mostly have been U.S. or Russian astronauts who have served in the military. We hope Wakata will demonstrate that Japanese astronauts have a high level of expertise when it comes to working in space.

The ISS is as big as a soccer stadium. Astronauts carry out space experiments there and make Earth and space observations every few minutes. Wakata will also engage in the maintenance and management of the main unit of the ISS.

Emergencies may occur, such as space junk—debris of satellites and rockets, floating in space—hitting and damaging the ISS. It is a tough workplace.

Dealing with emergencies

Wakata has been trained on Earth to deal with such emergencies.

Besides these tasks, he will also conduct biological experiments using killifish and observe comets from the Japanese module Kibo. By watching footage of him conducting such tasks, children will be given an opportunity to dream about what they can do in the universe.

The ISS will mark the 15th anniversary of the start of its construction this month. Originally, it was a symbol of cooperation between the United States and the former Soviet Union, the two space superpowers.

After the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia fell on hard economic times, there were efforts to prevent Russia’s space technology from falling into the hands of warring countries.

It can be said the ISS has contributed to material development and unraveling the mystery of life through space experiments utilizing zero gravity. It also has brought about various benefits, such as the space station’s water-purification technology, which is widely utilized in developing countries.

However, some people say the ISS has reached a turning point, because countries participating in ISS-related projects have become increasingly concerned over the huge operational expense of the space station.

Japan contributes about ¥40 billion a year for such expenses as launching rockets to carry cargo to the ISS. Yet quite a few people question whether the results are commensurate with the contribution.

The international community is watching whether Wakata and his colleagues in the ISS can produce sufficient results despite such criticism.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 10, 2013)
(2013年11月10日01時58分  読売新聞)


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