Nao Minamisawa is an actress, and one of the hosts of the NHK program Science Zero. She says that as a child she wasn’t good at science, so she had little interest in space. We talked to her about how her feelings have changed, and her thoughts about space and JAXA.
A new attitude towards space
— You are in your third year of hosting the science program Science Zero. Of all the stories the show has done about space, which one has struck you the most?
Recording an episode of Science Zero: “High Potential for Extraterrestrial Life! - Saturn’s Satellite Titan” (courtesy: NHK)
It was about Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Like Earth, it has rivers and lakes on its surface. They are made up of liquid methane, not water, but in images taken by a space probe the surface looked just like Earth. Because Titan’s environment is somewhat similar to Earth’s – it has an atmosphere, for example – there is speculation about the possibility of life there. When I heard about this, I realized that what I see here on Earth is just a tiny fraction of the universe. I imagined so many different life forms existing in space, on worlds I have never seen. I got very excited thinking about it.
— So you are interested in extraterrestrial life.
I think so. Since I was a child, I’ve seen aliens in manga and movies, and imagined what they would be like (laugh). What comes to mind when I think of aliens is the one from the movie E.T. It would be exciting to find out that aliens really exist.
Aside from Titan, I was also fascinated with microsatellites. I was very surprised to learn that such small satellites – small enough to fit in the palm of my hand – are really flying in space. I had assumed that collecting data in space required a large machine, so this was a big surprise to me! And when I found out that students too are making them, I felt as if the gateway to space had opened wider for me. Space suddenly got a lot closer.
— Since you started hosting the science program, has your attitude towards space changed?
Yes, it has. The biggest change is that I now understand that space is linked to our life. Using the GPS function on my mobile phone, I thank artificial satellites. I’d never thought about it like that before (laugh). For some reason, I always had this image of space as an exclusive world, only for enthusiasts and specialists, but now, when I hear that space-based research can help make our lives more convenient, I feel grateful for space. I feel even more thankful when our program visits scientists and I see them working diligently, refusing to give in to failure.
The unimaginable scale of the universe
— What comes to mind for you when you hear the word space?
First of all, weightlessness. It’s something we cannot experience in our normal lives, so I am very curious what a zero gravity environment is like. It’s fascinating that, in the world of weightlessness, you can see phenomena that are impossible on the ground.
— What attracts you about space?
I’m fascinated by its scale, which is beyond our imagination. The universe is thought to be 13.8 billion years old. It’s hard to conceive, isn’t it? For example, sunlight is something very ordinary for us. But I’ve learned that sunlight is actually a result of nuclear fusion occurring inside the Sun, and it takes millions or tens of millions of years for the light to emerge on the solar surface. And then it takes about eight minutes for that sunlight to reach Earth. So the sunlight we are seeing is the light created in ancient times. The immense scale is incredible. Another fascination of space is the fact that more is unknown than known. Even with today’s advanced scientific research, most questions about space are still unresolved.
— Is there something you really want to know about space?
I can’t think of anything in particular, but when Science Zero featured black holes, I found them very difficult to understand. It’s been more than two years since I joined the program, and I would say that was the most challenging episode for me. It was like stepping into a totally different world, because the field of study requires you to think from a very different perspective, leaving generally accepted ideas and common sense behind (laugh). I would like to build more knowledge, so that I can better understand black holes and other difficult topics.
— Do you do any research on your own before recording the program?
I do a little bit by reading books on space and science and searching online. It’s fun to learn something new during our shoots, but I find it more interesting when I already have some knowledge of the topic. Having said that, my role on the show is to have the same point of view as the audience, so I try not to learn too much in advance. On camera, I ask questions as they occur to me.
— How is your state of mind different when you are hosting the science program vs. acting?
They are two totally different things. For dramas, the lines are already written, and I think about how to add my own color, or interpretation. On the science program, of course the general outline is designed, but I need to speak with my own words. I try to understand the information and convey it with my own words. So on Science Zero I use my brain fully (laugh).
Learning is really fun
— What is your impression of JAXA?
I had heard of JAXA before I joined the science program, but my impression was that they were working on something difficult, and that their world had nothing to do with me. But I’ve learned through the show that, for example, research on the International Space Station could help create a new treatment for a currently incurable disease. I discovered that JAXA is working on research that’s related to enriching my daily life, and so I started recognizing the space agency as a place filled with hopes for the future.
— Did you know that JAXA’s research focuses not just on space but also on aviation?
Yes, I did. Our program did a story on JAXA’s work on unmanned aircraft, and that made a big impression on me. I couldn’t imagine an airplane flying without a pilot, so I was very surprised to learn that an unmanned aircraft can be flown with remote control, and could also fly autonomously when given certain data. I was even more surprised to learn that such aircraft are going to be deployed soon to investigate the status of disaster areas and for door-to-door delivery services. The contents of our show always surprise me (laugh). I learn a lot of new things with each episode.
— Were you interested in space as a child?
My parents used to take me to the planetarium. I also have an uncle who likes astronomy, and he used to teach me what kind of celestial bodies could be seen and when. But I didn’t know much about space. I didn’t dislike science, but I wasn’t good at it. For me, science was just one of the subjects to study in school, and even when I studied hard, my grades didn’t improve (laugh). But once I realized that science and space are closely linked with our lives, they were no longer just subjects that I was forced to study in school. I’ve come to enjoy learning new things. In fact, I get excited. For example, I got more interested in the annular solar eclipse when I learned about how it occurs.
—An annular solar eclipse was observed in Japan in May 2012. Did you watch it?
Annular solar eclipse observed in Japan in May 2012
Yes, I did. I had heard that we might not be able to see it because the forecast called for clouds. But the sky cleared at last, for a brief time, and we were able to catch the eclipse. It was very mysterious, and I was so moved. I am usually not conscious that celestial bodies are moving, but that time I truly understood that the Sun, Moon and Earth are moving in relation to each other. Until then, I had rarely looked up at the sky, but that day I thought about not just the eclipse but also how the clouds move. It made me feel that I am also part of the universe. I recall that I had very profound thoughts, pondering many different things, as I looked up at the sky.
I want to hear from the astronauts
— What are your hopes for future space exploration?
I think that even those who don’t know much about space, or pay much attention to it, are curious about travelling there, so I hope that space travel will become more accessible in the future. I’d like to go to space myself, too. I’m interested in seeing the Earth and other celestial bodies from outer space. Space travel is expected to become more accessible in a few decades. I’m curious to see if it will really happen.
— Do you have any requests for JAXA?
I’d like more opportunities to hear talks by people who work in space. I especially hope that there will be more opportunities for regular people to meet astronauts in person. For instance, it would be wonderful if astronauts could give special lectures at universities. When astronaut Satoshi Furukawa was a guest on our show, I was surprised to find out that his work involves so many scientific assignments. To tell you the truth, before I met him I didn’t know much at all about what astronauts were doing in space. I assume there are a lot of people like me.
I learned a lot from astronaut Furukawa. For example, in space, there is no sense of a ceiling or a floor, so you can store things anywhere – above or below. You sleep floating. You can’t get into a fight because, if you throw a punch, both of you will end up flying away (laugh). I was especially interested to learn that, after he became an astronaut, he had to wait 10 years before going to space. I studied psychology in university, so I wanted to know how he was able to stay motivated over such a long period of time. I think we can develop something interesting by connecting psychology and astronauts. Such a project may have already taken place, but I am hoping that it becomes easier to hear astronauts talking about their precious experiences.
— Finally, please tell us about your vision for the future.
Apart from acting, I would love to try many different things. Although I graduated from university last year, I enjoy learning new things, so I’d like to continue to study all my life. Each episode of Science Zero offers me a lot to learn, so I hope that I can continue to enjoy the program. I would love to learn more about space!
Nao Minamisawa, Actress
Ms. Minamisawa made her debut in 2006, at the age of 16, starring in a TV drama series, Koisuru Nichiyobi – New Type (BS-TBS). In 2008, she gained attention for playing a realistic high school girl in Akai Ito (Fuji Network System), which was released as both a movie and a TV series. Her career includes many other roles on television, in movies and in theatre, and has continued to expand beyond acting since joining the TV program Science Zero (NHK Educational TV) in 2012. She had a regular role in the TV drama series Naruyouni narusa (TBS Networks), which premiered in April 2014.
[ Jun. 30, 2014 ]