National

Japanese astronaut Kanai to travel to space in 2017

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Norishige Kanai used to be a Maritime Self-Defense Force doctor specializing in undersea medicine, but in 2017 he will take a huge leap, as he puts it, “from deep sea to space.”

Kanai will travel aboard the Soyuz spacecraft into space, beginning a six-month journey around November 2017.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced his place on the Russian spacecraft on Wednesday.

“I believe my unique background . . . as an SDF doctor specializing in undersea medicine . . . allows me to contribute to the mission by adding new ideas to the field of space (research),” Kanai, 38, said at the JAXA office in Tokyo on Thursday.

“Like (Nemo) in the movie ‘Finding Nemo,’ I was always looked after by my colleagues to see if I hadn’t disappeared,” said Kanai, whose call sign in the operation is “Nemo.” “Following (their lead in) the group, I could finally become an astronaut.”

Kanai is well versed in medical research on how extreme environments affect the human body, and will be involved in operations at the International Space Station as a flight engineer and will conduct experiments in space.

Kanai will be the 12th Japanese astronaut to travel into space and the seventh to stay for a prolonged period aboard the ISS. He will be the third “next generation” Japanese astronaut to be involved in ISS operations, on the heels of fellow astronauts Kimiya Yui and Takuya Onishi, a 39-year-old who is slated to go into space in 2016.

“Personally, I believe (the involvement of) Japanese astronauts is like a sash relay,” handing down the legacy from generation to generation, Kanai said, adding it will be a “great honor and very exciting” to succeed the mission from Yui and Onishi.

Asked about his personality, Kanai responded that he is rather cautious, perhaps too much so.

“But, as most astronauts are aggressive, I believe my role in a team will be . . . to keep them calm and monitor whether operations are going as planned,” he said.

As an astronaut, Kanai said he dreams of realizing a society where anyone can travel to space as easily as flying overseas.

“I am now undertaking a great task, but this is not a goal for me. I consider it is a first step to realize my dream,” he said. “I will do what I can, one step at a time.”

A Tokyo native who spent his teenage years in Chiba, Kanai graduated from the National Defense Medical College in 2002. He then joined the MSDF, and later JAXA in 2009, along with Yui and Onishi. He was certified as an ISS astronaut in 2011.