Nation’s first astronaut, Chiaki Mukai, honored by France

Kyodo, JIJI

Astronaut Chiaki Mukai was awarded France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor, on Tuesday for her contributions to strengthening cooperation between France and Japan in the field of space exploration.

Mukai, 62, became Japan’s first female astronaut when she boarded the space shuttle Columbia in 1994 as a payload specialist. She was also involved in medical research aboard the much publicized 1998 Discovery mission to increase astronomical understanding of the sun and how it affects life on Earth.

Mukai is due to begin a new role at the Center for Applied Space Medicine and Human Research at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency after serving as a visiting professor at the International Space University in Strasbourg in France from 2004 to 2007.

The award was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize eminent service in fields such as culture, science and business.

The French ambassador to Japan, Thierry Dana, handed the medal to Mukai at an award ceremony at his official residence in Tokyo.

Mukai said she felt “extremely honored and happy to have received such a historical award.”