Astronaut Soichi Noguchi says he pictures the image of the Earth whenever he hears the words global environment, and says he wants to convey to others how truly beautiful the planet is.

Addressing an audience of about 80 people, including children, at the Nippon Club in Manhattan, Noguchi showed a number of pictures he took during his 15-day mission aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery in summer 2005.

“As knowledge from books, we know that the Earth is covered by 70 percent water and 30 percent land. But my first impression of the Earth from space is that it’s all water — the Earth is indeed a planet of water,” Noguchi said.

He said he always looked forward to when he could view the Earth during his mission, and appreciated that the shuttle often flew over Japan during the day, allowing him to see familiar sites in a totally new perspective.

Asked about physical hardships he experienced during the mission, Noguchi said most of the problems were transitional and were caused by the loss of gravity.

For example, when in a gravity-free environment, the human heart pumps blood with less force than it does under gravity. As a result, an abnormal amount of blood goes to the head and causes facial swelling, he said.

Noguchi, the fifth Japanese astronaut to take part in a space shuttle mission, also said the loss of gravity causes a sleep disorder similar to one experienced during jet lag.

“A number of studies are being conducted on these problems with a view to preparing for humans to live on the moon or Mars,” he said.

Noguchi said he and six other shuttle crew members spent two hours every day conducting a variety of aerobic activities using ergometers and treadmills to help minimize muscle loss.

Asked about the most profound change he experienced before and after the mission, Noguchi said it was his perception of Earth’s beauty.

“When we speak about the conservation of natural environments, for example, we often picture specific places, like a beautiful shoreline. For me, that image has become the (spherical) Earth that I saw. I want to convey how beautiful it is, and also want to continue thinking about what needs to be done globally to protect it,” he said.

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