A trio of astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) returned to earth on Wednesday after staying there for more than three months. Koichi Wakata, who was the first Japanese ever to command a space mission at the ISS, was among the three who returned, amidst issues regarding the US and Russia-led space program, but he could definitely hold his head high.
The 50-year old Wakata was the first Japanese to man the multi-billion 15-nation project to space. As the commander, he was in-charge of handling his crew’s health and managing the supplies for their stay, given that supplies such as food is not easy to acquire outside the earth of course. Apart from this, his most important responsibility and the heaviest at that, is probably to ensure the safety of the ISS. Any emergency they encounter there, whether it calls for evacuation or not, fell on the shoulder of Wakata. Just ask any person who has seen the Hollywood film Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks, and one would know how important and formidable his role is.
According to Wakata, there were many times when the station’s fire alarm sounded off and he was awaken by it. He had to muster the nerve and go right where the problem may be located at the risk of his own life. Thankfully those turned out to be false alarms, much to his relief and the ground control too, whom, he would often report to in situations as that. Even though “they were good training”, such alarms were still nerve-wracking for him. With the relative lack of news about his command of the ISS, an official from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s Space Development and Utilization Division noted it as “evidence of just how well Wakata managed the ISS.” Even Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) ISS program manager Masazumi Miyake commended the astronaut for his role. “Unlike in his past mission as one of the astronauts, I think Wakata understood how difficult overall management of the station is. His experience should do a lot to raise the level of space development in Japan,” he added.
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