• Kyodo

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NASA chief Jim Bridenstine on Friday spoke highly of the contributions Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi can make as a member of an upcoming mission that will take him and three others to the International Space Station aboard a commercial U.S. spacecraft.

“He’s not just a Japanese hero. He’s an American hero. … I look forward to all the amazing things that Soichi Noguchi is going to do on the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said at a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of the planned launch of the Crew Dragon ship developed by U.S. aerospace manufacturer SpaceX.

NASA on Friday pushed back the launch one day to Sunday evening, citing weather conditions. NASA and SpaceX are now planning the launch of the Crew Dragon space capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket for 7:27 p.m. Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule is expected to dock at the International Space Station at about 11 p.m. Monday.

The schedule adjustment was made to ensure that the weather is suitable for the recovery of Falcon 9’s first-stage booster following the launch. The booster will be reused to fly astronauts in the next mission.

The four-member team, including spacecraft commander Michael Hopkins and mission specialist Noguchi, will stay on the ISS for approximately six months and conduct experiments on microgravity.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on Monday | NASA / VIA AP
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on Monday | NASA / VIA AP

According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Noguchi is expected to carry out studies involving induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, that can be converted into any type of cell in the body.

“Japan is an amazing partner and we’re very, very grateful for the nation of Japan. … We look forward to a long and strong partnership with Japan as we continue,” Bridenstine said.

He also assured that the astronauts have been in quarantine for weeks to prepare for the flight amid the coronavirus pandemic after concerns emerged over their possible exposure in the wake of news that Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Musk tweeted early Friday that he took four COVID-19 tests a day before, in which he tested positive twice and negative twice.

“Something extremely bogus is going on,” he said. When asked by a Twitter user about his symptoms, he said he had those of a “typical cold.”

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