All Training Feeds My Curiosity

Q. What kind of training have you had for the upcoming mission? How is it different from the training for your previous mission?

Astronaut Hoshide in training for extravehicular activity
Astronaut Hoshide in training for extravehicular activity
Astronaut Hoshide in training for the operation of Kibo’s robotic arm
Astronaut Hoshide in training for the operation of Kibo’s robotic arm

I have had a variety of training: conducting space-based experiments, operating the robotic arm, performing extravehicular activity, etc. The training for extravehicular activity was held in a large swimming pool with a mock-up of the ISS airlock. In the airlock training, we learned the whole sequence, from preparation for extravehicular activity, putting on a space suit and depressurizing the airlock, to increasing the pressure again in the airlock after coming back from extravehicular activity, and taking off the suit. I won’t be doing a space walk related to the assembly of the ISS, but I had the training because occasionally there is the need for a space walk to do repairs on the ISS. So I’m prepared for it anytime.

In Russia, I had training on the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS Russian module. The Russian module is controlled and operated by Russian cosmonauts, but we are all required to understand its important aspects. The training includes emergency situations, such as fire and emergency depressurization in the Russian module, and evacuation on the Soyuz aircraft. In such emergency situations, cooperation between crew members is very important. There is no room for error, so we had intense training to learn the correct procedures.

In my opinion, the major difference between training for a short-duration mission, such as a space shuttle mission, and training for a long-duration mission, like my next one, is whether the training is task-based or skill-based. For short-duration missions, you’re training over and over for a specific task, such as the assembly of Kibo. A long-duration mission, in contrast, covers a wide range of tasks, so you practice skills to be able to deal with any situation that comes up.

Q. What was the most memorable moment in training for you?

Astronaut Hoshide in survival training in Russia
Astronaut Hoshide in survival training in Russia

All the training was memorable and fun. But, of course, some of it was challenging. For example, I had survival training for the Soyuz spacecraft on the assumption that it had fallen in an unexpected area. The training was held in the extreme cold of the Russian winter, and it was tough, for sure. But such training gives you great satisfaction in the end. It’s a rare experience. I seem to find pleasure in various experiences, including going to space, even if they are tough.

Flying on the Soyuz Spacecraft

Q. A problem with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft was discovered, and the launch, originally scheduled for March 2012, was postponed. Does such news worry you?

Soyuz flight crew, from left, astronauts Akihiko Hoshide, Yuri Malenchenko and Sunita Williams. (courtesy: JAXA/GCTC)
Soyuz flight crew, from left, astronauts Akihiko Hoshide, Yuri Malenchenko and Sunita Williams. (courtesy: JAXA/GCTC)

No, it doesn’t. The Soyuz has a long history of operations, and is highly regarded around the world. The fundamental design has not changed since its first flight in 1967, even though some details have been upgraded. In that sense, the Soyuz spacecraft is a mature technology with extremely high reliability. For my next mission, like astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, I’m scheduled to fly onboard the new digital Soyuz TMA-05M.

Q. Could you tell us about your crewmates on the Soyuz?

I’ll fly with NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Astronaut Williams has already experienced a long-duration mission, and will serve as ISS Commander for the second half of the next mission. She has also had a management job as Deputy Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office. She is a very friendly person. Astronaut Malenchenko is a veteran of veterans, and the next flight will be his fifth. He has stayed on the Mir space station and has also flown as Space Shuttle crew. He has done two long-duration missions on the ISS.

Going to Space on a Long Business Trip

Q. What got you interested in going to space?

Astronaut Hoshide working on the ISS on his previous mission (courtesy: NASA)
Astronaut Hoshide working on the ISS on his previous mission (courtesy: NASA)

Because of my father’s job, I lived in the United States from the age of three to seven, and my father took me to the Kennedy Space Center. Then after coming back to Japan, I watched the space anime Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato. That’s what got me interested in going to space. The main characters of the anime were so cool, I wanted to go to space myself, too. Q. When did you start thinking about actually working in space? As a child, I just simply wanted to go to space. And then, when Japan got its first astronaut, I started thinking about becoming one myself, as an occupation. When I was a senior at university, there was a call for astronauts. I thought about applying, but I didn’t meet the qualification requirement of at least three years of practical experience. But I still couldn’t give up, so I visited NASDA [now JAXA] for advice, and found out that indeed at that time I had to give up. After graduating from university, I joined NASDA. Working closely with the astronauts, I started to understand what going to space and working there was all about.

I stayed on at NASDA, and tried the test for becoming an astronaut. I passed on my second attempt. I had observed the astronauts’ work closely, so working in space had become a natural thing for me. This is why I don’t consider working in space to be something special. For me, the coming mission is more like going to space on a long business trip.

Q. You went to space in 2008. Did the experience change the image you had of space?

Image of the International Space Station with a backdrop showing the dramatic contrast between blue earth and black space (courtesy: NASA)
Image of the International Space Station with a backdrop showing the dramatic contrast between blue earth and black space (courtesy: NASA)

Real space was totally different from what I had imagined - you cannot walk in a spaceship like they do in Space Battleship Yamato (laughs). Space is enjoyable, but at the same time there were moments when I felt scared. In photos or videos, you often see the image of black outer space stretching behind the Earth. The real blackness is nothing like what you see in photos or videos. It’s "bottomless." Staring at it, you feel like you’re going to be sucked into that pitch blackness. It is such utter darkness, you can almost hear a deep rumbling sound.

And at the same time, the Earth I saw was so beautiful. It was also completely different from the image I was used to seeing in photos. In the pitch blackness of space, I thought from the bottom of my heart that if it weren’t for the Earth, we wouldn’t be able to live, and therefore we must treasure our planet. Another discovery was that I don’t get tired of looking at the Earth from space, because the planet keeps showing me different aspects. When I returned to Earth, I didn’t feel like I’d fulfilled my dream of going to space and that was all. Instead, I wanted to go back to space again right away.

Contributing to the Success of the Entire Team

Q. What are your goals after the long-duration mission?

I’d like to go to the Moon someday. And, it would be wonderful if I could help in the development of technology that can contribute to future human space missions. Probably this is a common hope among Japanese astronauts, but I would like to take off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. Q. Your long-duration mission is coming up soon. How are you feeling now? I’m feeling now like I’m going back to a house I built four years ago. I am very much looking forward to living and working on the ISS for an extended period. As a member of the ISS program, Japan has earned a high degree of trust from the rest of the world. I would like to earn that trust myself by doing my job. Of course I take my job very seriously, but I’d also like to enjoy the stay up there with everyone else. Ultimately, I’ll be very happy if I can see smiles on the faces of my crewmates and the ground staff.

Astronauts surely get a lot of attention by going to space, but I am merely one team member, assigned the job of working in space. For example, just one experiment requires a team of many people with different roles: someone to design the experiment, someone else to build the experiment facility, to plan the procedure, to teach the procedure to the astronauts, and to give the astronauts in space instructions from the ground. It will be my pleasure if I can contribute to the success of the entire team and make them smile.

I would like more people to dream of going to space. I would like to the public them how "accessible" space is. I am hoping that I can show a bright future from space.

Related link: Astronaut Hoshide’s long-duration mission on the ISS (only Japanese)

Akihiko Hoshide
Astronaut, Flight Crew Operations and Technology Department, Human Space Systems and Utilization Mission Directorate, JAXA

Hoshide received a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Keio University in 1992, and a master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering in 1997. From 1992 to 1994, he was involved in the development and management of the H-II rocket at the Nagoya Office of NASDA (now JAXA). From 1994 to 1999, at the Tsukuba Space Center and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, he worked as an astronaut support engineer, supporting the development of the astronaut training program and the evaluation of crew interface designs. He also supported astronaut Koichi Wakata during his training and flight on the STS-72 space shuttle mission. In 1999, Hoshide was selected by NASDA as one of the Japanese astronaut candidates for the International Space Station, and was certified as an astronaut in 2001. He was certified as a Soyuz-TMA Flight Engineer in 2004, and by NASA as a Mission Specialist in February 2006. In June 2008 he flew to the ISS on the space shuttle Discovery’s STS-124 mission, and worked on Japan’s Kibo program, installing Kibo’s Pressurized Module on the ISS, and activating the module and Kibo’s robotic arm. In 2009, he was assigned to the ISS as a flight engineer for Expedition 32/33.

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