• Kyodo

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Information technology will play a key role in advancing space shuttle operations and those of other spacecraft, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata told Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori from space Thursday.

During the second day of an 11-day mission of the space shuttle Discovery, which is orbiting 330 km above Earth, Wakata spoke with Mori — who was at his official residence — for about 20 minutes.

“IT has already contributed greatly to operations of shuttles and the International Space Station,” said Wakata, whose conversation with Mori was monitored at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The 37-year-old mission specialist said advances in IT have already enabled astronauts to send and receive e-mail messages while aboard a space shuttle.

“I will send an e-mail to you later,” Wakata told Mori, who only recently learned how to send e-mail.

Mori, noting the Discovery mission is the last shuttle flight in the 20th century, said the mission is likely to lay important foundations for space development in the next century.

Replied Wakata: “My message from space is that all the people around the world need to cooperate in pioneering new areas.”

Global cooperation is also necessary to protect the Earth’s environment, the preservation of which cannot just be bought with money, the Japanese astronaut said.

Mori said the world will probably become increasingly borderless in the next century.

“Space could be a place where people in the world look for happiness,” he said. “Mr. Wakata, you are one of the forerunners in making this happen.”

Wakata expressed confidence that his current space shuttle mission will be a success.

“The teamwork among our crew members is very good,” he said.

“If the Olympics ever has a competition for outer space activities, I am sure our team will win a gold medal.”

A 17-year-old high school baseball player from Japan’s small volcanic island of Miyakejima, some 200 km south of Tokyo, later joined the conversation between Wakata and the prime minister.

Hidenori Tsumura, captain of the Miyake High School baseball team, and his teammates have been living in Tokyo’s Akiruno city since Mount Oyama erupted during the summer.

His team participated in the annual summer baseball tournament in August, being eliminated in the preliminary round.

Wakata applauded Tsumura for leading the team in the tournament despite the evacuation.

“Many people were moved by your team’s participation and the spirited way you played,” he said.

Replied Tsumura, “We were able to take part in the baseball tournament thanks to the support of many people and teachers.”

A former high school baseball player himself, Wakata has taken the flag of the Japan High School Baseball Federation with him on the mission.

Sending a message to Japanese children, Wakata said, “Everybody can make their dreams come true if they set goals and (strive to reach them).

“When I was a small child, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut after I saw Apollo 11. But in those days, only Americans and Soviets had the chance of becoming astronauts.”

The video image of Wakata talking with the prime minister aboard the Discovery was initially meant to be transmitted to Earth via the shuttle’s “Ku” band system.

But the system turned out to be defective and sent only still images, much to the disappointment of Japanese reporters at the Johnson Space Center.

A troubleshooting team at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been set up to fix the problem.

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