Monday, September 21, 2009

Astronaut Koichi Wakata


This past week at Johnson Space Center, it was my privilege to meet JAXA Astronaut Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese astronaut to complete a long-duration stay on the International Space Station. Throughout Expeditions 18, 19 and 20, he was on the ISS from March to July 2009.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata
Wakata Kōichi

He honored me with a bow, which I returned…and he graciously agreed to a photograph, for which I was enormously grateful.

I asked him if was he ready to come home to Earth after four months in micro-gravity, or if given the chance, would he have remained on the orbiting station? He quipped that he probably shouldn’t answer that question in front of his wife, which made everyone laugh, but then admitted he would gladly have stayed longer. And I guess that Magic Carpet experiment was a real hoot!

International Space Station
Leaving some artwork behind on the ISS

He just completed his physical rehabilitation at JSC, and is now preparing to return to Japan for the first time since his record-breaking mission(s)… so his arrival in Tokyo is sure to be a dazzling and dramatic national welcome!

I mentioned Wakata in previous blog posts about Expedition 19 astronauts, and he was quite active in answering questions during President Obama’s well-publicized phone call to the ISS with a group of school-children.

Wakata Kōichi - JAXA
He’s also the distinguished veteran of four NASA Shuttle missions, and his past assignments include NASA robotics instructor, Payload Director for the robotic arm experiment in the Japanese Kibo Module and Commander of a NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) expedition in the undersea Aquarius lab located off the Florida coast.