Astronauts have long been lauded as heroic explorers of the stars, but it is their skills in confined space that may appeal more now to residents of urban Japan weary of life under a state of emergency.

Atsuhiro Mitsumaru, principal medical officer of the Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate at Japan's space agency, says a comparison can be drawn between life on the International Space Station (ISS) and staying at home in these days of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We can say that both are stressful," he said in a recent interview. "What the two situations have in common is that people are in a confined space for a long period, with restrictions on interaction with others."