Yamazaki touts Japan’s space tech

by Kazuaki Nagata

Praising the level of Japanese space technology, astronaut Naoko Yamazaki expressed hope Friday that the government will allocate more money for science despite the pressure to cut overall expenditures.

Among the recent achievements of Japanese scientists is the Hayabusa spacecraft, which recently completed a seven-year round-trip to an asteroid and possibly brought back particles from the rock.

“The technology cultivated with the Hayabusa will greatly contribute (to international cooperation) on the global stage,” such as asteroid exploration projects promised by U.S. President Barack Obama, Yamazaki said during a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

“I am really glad that the Hayabusa successfully completed its mission and returned to Earth,” she said.

Yamazaki is the second female Japanese astronaut to have flown in space.

Science funding has drawn great attention during recent intensive government budget-screening sessions. Technologies, including those developed through space exploration, are key to a country’s overall strength in the long run, Yamazaki said.

“I know that it is kind of hard to actually see the science and space exploration technology with your eyes, but . . . I would like the nation to focus on science to strengthen Japan over the long term,” she said.

Yamazaki was one of seven astronauts to lift off aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 5 on a mission to resupply the International Space Station. The astronauts returned to Earth on April 20.

Yamazaki showed video of her two weeks in space, including scenes of the astronauts going about their daily life, such as having lunch on the shuttle, and working aboard Discovery and the ISS.

Back on Earth, she said she was surprised to feel the effects of gravity again.

“It took just a second to get used to weightlessness in space, but it took about an hour to get used to walking on Earth,” she said.

Asked how life in space was and if she had difficulty, she said she could actually enjoy quite a comfortable life.

“It was surprising that we can have normal food, clothing and housing,” she said, adding that the astronauts had a wide variety of food available to them.