Test astronaut hopefuls flood Japan's space agency in search of big payday

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

A recruitment drive by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to find eight male volunteers willing to play the part of astronaut in a two-week stress test for nearly double the monthly salary of a new university graduate has drawn more interest than expected.

JAXA has received more than 2,000 replies, forcing it to put a halt to the application process Monday — two weeks ahead of schedule, according to NHK.

The space agency started the drive last Thursday to recruit people willing to stay at its operations facility in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, in February and take part in various experiments.

After completing the two-week program and visits to various JAXA facilities, the test subjects will receive a payment of ¥380,000. According to the labor ministry, the average monthly starting salary for new college graduates in 2015 was ¥202,000.

The tests are aimed at developing more effective methods for astronauts to measure their own stress levels in space, JAXA said. Currently, astronauts are checked and counseled remotely every few weeks by doctors back on Earth.

Healthy male applicants between the ages of 20 and 55 were sought. They will be asked to carry out assigned activities under conditions similar to the environment astronauts experience on the International Space Station.

The subjects’ stress levels will be examined after each activity to determine suitable stress markers — such as in blood, saliva and urine — that can be checked in zero-gravity conditions.

People on social media expressed excitement over the possibility of earning such a large sum of money for just two weeks of work, while others were suspicious about the mysterious nature of the experiments.

“Being secluded for two weeks for ¥380,000. That sounds good,” Twitter user @SKanesho posted Sunday.

“I want to try. . . . But I’m not sure a person who can’t bear stress from work can endure the stress from (living in) the closed environment that simulates space,” another Twitter user, @joe500bianco, posted Friday.

Astronaut Kimiya Yui returned to Earth on Dec. 11 after five months aboard the ISS. Takuya Onishi is scheduled to depart for the ISS next June while Norishige Kanai will go to the space station in November 2017.