• Kyodo

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Astronaut Takao Doi will join a space shuttle mission in late 2007 that will deliver the first components of Japan’s space laboratory to the International Space Station, according to science minister Kenji Kosaka.

NASA officially conveyed its decision to include a Japanese astronaut and its selection of veteran Doi, 51, as one of the crew members for the two-week mission during a meeting Friday between Kosaka and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Kosaka said at a news conference.

Griffin said another Japanese, Naoko Yamazaki, 35, has been selected to join the mission as part of the ground staff, according to Kosaka.

It will be the first of the three missions through late 2008 to deliver components and complete Kibo, Japan’s first manned space laboratory. The name means “hope” in Japanese.

NASA has yet to decide the crew for the two other missions, but Japan wants Japanese astronauts to join them as well.

“We hope that it will pave the way for further achievements by Japanese astronauts . . . in increasing interest and giving dreams and hopes to children,” Kosaka said. “I believe it was an appropriate selection given astronaut Doi’s experience.”

It will be the second shuttle mission for Doi, who became the first Japanese to perform activities outside a spacecraft during his first flight in 1997.

His next mission will mark the ninth shuttle flight by Japanese astronauts. Soichi Noguchi, 41, was aboard the eighth last year.

Kibo will accommodate four astronauts who will conduct experiments in four facilities, including two labs.

The components will be sent to the space station in three batches, according to an agreement reached in March by the heads of space agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States for completing construction of the orbiting space station in 2010.

The agreement came after Japan and Europe put pressure on NASA to take up their payloads as early as possible because the United States plans to focus on lunar and Mars missions with a new spacecraft that will replace the space shuttle.

NASA plans 16 shuttle flights and three reserve flights to finish construction of the space station by the time it retires the aging spacecraft in 2010.

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