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Reporting from Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Terada: What would you like to do if you could go to space?

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (courtesy: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (courtesy: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Nakagawa: I would love to do things like singing to my favorite planet, Jupiter, and blogging from space. If possible, I want to die while reporting on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot as my rocket crashes into it. You know, my ideal death is by diving into the Great Red Spot. (laugh) A one-way ticket would be fine. I would like to go to space so much!

Terada: There’s a communications satellite that plays a part in your blog updates. Did you know that there are a lot of space applications in our daily lives?

Nakagawa: There is an app that tells you where the other person is when you enter their phone number. I tried it myself and was surprised that it actually gives you the exact address. The GPS satellites are really amazing.

Terada: I was responsible for the development of the Japanese version of the GPS satellites, MICHIBIKI. With this satellite, it even becomes possible to see which lane of traffic you’re in. On expressways, there are about 1,000 accidents each year caused by cars driving the wrong way, so MICHIBIKI is also expected to contribute to traffic safety. Also, the Advanced Land Observing Satellite DAICHI played a major role in surveying the damage caused by the tsunami when the Tohoku Earthquake happened. So JAXA’s satellites are highly useful in everyday life.

Nakagawa: I have seen the images taken by DAICHI. There are things that are only possible with satellites, aren’t there? I often look at pictures of Earth taken from space. Looking at them, it feels as if we have suddenly entered an era where we have control of our planet, where there is nothing we don’t know about it, and I am amazed. However, I am not good with machines, so I never really thought about satellites. I should learn more about them.

”I want a lot of surprises while I am alive!”

Terada: What kind of things are you interested in learning about space?

Evidence of life is expected to be found on Mars (courtesy: NASA/JPL/MSSS)
Evidence of life is expected to be found on Mars (courtesy: NASA/JPL/MSSS)

Nakagawa: There is so much I would like to know. Nowadays the latest information is available on the Internet so quickly, so every day is quite exciting. For example, there have been many wonderful discoveries, such as star systems with planets circling around them, a hot Jupiter, and a diamond planet. But what I really can’t wait for is the discovery of life. Also, I can’t understand dark matter no matter how much I read about it, so I am hoping for a discovery that will explain to me what it really is.

Terada: Speaking of extraterrestrial life, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is now in operation, and is expected to find something.

Nakagawa: I thought Curiosity would find evidence of some kind of life, such as microorganisms. But it sounds like the chances of that are slim because methane, which is essential for life, was not discovered in the Gale Crater, where Curiosity made its landing. When it landed successfully, I was optimistic that it would make a major discovery, so it’s disappointing. If no life is found, Earth will really be a lonely planet. Earth-like planets exist in this vast universe, so there has to be another celestial body with life. I think it’s just too far for us to see. And I still haven’t given up on Curiosity.

Terada: HAYABUSA 2 is scheduled for launch in 2014 to explore a C-type asteroid. We expect to find organic compounds and water there, so we may be able to make a new discovery about life.

Asteroid explore HAYABUSA-2 (courtesy: Akihiro Ikeshita)
Asteroid explore HAYABUSA-2 (courtesy: Akihiro Ikeshita)

Nakagawa: I’m looking forward to it. For life to be born in the universe, there has to be a habitable zone – an environment with liquid water. The universe is so vast, I expect there are many celestial bodies that can accommodate the birth of life. In reality, Earth-like planets have been found, so it may be unexpectedly easy to find extraterrestrial life. I can’t wait to hear that we on Earth are really not alone in the universe.

Besides, if life is found in space, it will push space research further. This is a bit off topic, but technology has made a huge leap in the last 100 years. It was only fifty years ago that a man went to space for the first time. Doesn’t that seem unreal? The Edo period lasted 300 years, yet such a great change never happened in that time. On the other hand, in the last 100 years, the computer was invented and the Internet was spread. What’s going on? It’s a little scary. I almost wonder if the Earth can keep up with such sudden change. But it must be an inevitable experience for our species now.

I always have this notion that I never know when I will die, but on the scale of the universe my lifespan is merely an instant. So while I am alive, I’d like to experience as many surprises as possible, and obtain as much knowledge as possible. I am hoping that, in particular, space-related things will keep progressing fast.

No need for a reason for humans to go to space

Terada: You really know a lot about space. How do you learn about it?

Nakagawa: I usually get news about space on the Internet because information is so rapidly available. Also, I am a big fan of Prof. Junichi Watanabe at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, so I always read his new books. I can’t really understand superstring theory no matter how much I read. But as long as it’s about space, it doesn’t matter how difficult it is or if I can understand it or not. I just like reading about it. Space is the only subject that I don’t need to understand in order to have fun. I never get bored of it, it’s an eternal romance for me.

Terada: What are your expectations for future space missions?

Nakagawa: I envy people who lived at the right time to hear about the discoveries of the planets in our solar system as they happened. I want to hear real-time news about the discovery of extraterrestrial life, which will be the greatest news in human history, so for now I’m hoping that Curiosity will find something. There is also a technology I want to see developed: a way to create a wormhole, a shortcut through dimensional space/time, which will allow us to explore planets at great distances. I really can’t comprehend how it is possible to bend dimensions next to each other or to make a hole in dimensions, but I assume that a UFO couldn’t come to Earth without this kind of technology, so it must exist somewhere. (laugh)

And ultimately, I hope it will become possible for ordinary people to go to space easily. “Where are you going for the New Year’s holiday?” “I’m going to space.” I want to be able to have such a conversation someday. And I would like to go to Jupiter. I don’t want to hear that there is no technology available to take me to a planet at such a great distance. Please! I’m serious. A one-way ticket would do. I really want to go to Jupiter!

Terada: When we plan planetary exploration, we often get asked why humans need to go to space. We say that it’s human nature. You, too, want to go to space out of that instinct, don’t you?

Nakagawa: If you question, you can’t accomplish anything. I would suggest that those who question the need to go to space pick up some picture books and learn more about it. Going to space is a privilege of the human life form. It is also evidence of evolution. Some people just don’t understand that, but honestly, I just want to tell them to get lost. (laugh) You, JAXA people, who are working on space research, you carry all our hopes on your shoulders. You should ignore people saying “why?” or “it’s too expensive,” and keep working to further the evolution of humanity. Personally, when it comes to space exploration, I think we should let go of the concept of money.

”Push open the door to space”

Terada: I would love to hear any suggestions or requests you have for JAXA.

Nakagawa: I don’t want Japan to stop space exploration. As a Japanese citizen, I was very excited about the achievement of HAYABUSA, which resounded around the world. I hope that Japan will continue its efforts in space. Most of all, I hope Japanese astronauts will go to the Moon. I want JAXA to implement a human lunar mission. Some people may say that the United States already went to the Moon so there’s no need to go there again. I disagree. All Japanese people will be moved if Japanese astronauts fly to the Moon on a Japanese rocket and show us what it’s really like.

Also, I have a request that people be allowed to apply to become astronauts, regardless of age or educational background. Of course, I understand that you want people with experience and knowledge, but there are many people out there who don’t have academic ability but are very inquisitive and smart. I hope there will be a special system to allow that kind of person to go to space with referrals or endorsements. Then I will give it a try for sure. I would like JAXA to push open the door to space for ordinary people, and send a lot of us there.

Terada: What else do you think JAXA should be doing to spread information about our work?

Nakagawa: I think JAXA could start JAXA TV, like NASA TV, to constantly provide information on space. On the channel, people would be able to learn about JAXA’s activities and accomplishments, and many documentaries can be inserted in between. The same programs can be aired many times. Some shows can be silent and some can have complex, academic commentary.

And I think that JAXA astronauts, who have actually travelled in space, should appear a lot on the channel because we civilians usually learn about space through them. It will also encourage public interest in space. In the TV show where I made a trip into the deep sea, we weren’t able to show everything I saw down there, so I am sure that there are things only people who have been there know. It would be really wonderful if I could immerse myself in the world of space, watching JAXA TV all day long.

Sharing the fun and excitement of space with children

Terada: What is your goal for this year?

Nakagawa: Last year was the tenth anniversary of my entertainment debut, and I had a concert tour in Asia. When I sang an anime song at a concert, although it was in Japanese, everyone stood up, and sang along loudly, and jumped up and down. I really felt that, by singing a song, which is something only humans can do, I could make people smile regardless of the borders of politics, gender or generations. And that smile is universal, and the world is one. I would like to do things like that again this year, to make everyone smile regardless of the borders between us.

And I am going to produce a program that will be shown at the Konica Minolta Planetarium this summer. It will be my second time since the summer of 2010. My first exposure to space was at a planetarium, when I was a schoolgirl. I think I was very lucky to be introduced to the world of space when my mind was still flexible. So I would like to make a program that can surprise children and make them interested in space. I used to be the one who got excited by learning, and now that I am an adult, my motivation is shifting to wanting to show children something fun and exciting. I am thrilled just thinking about the content of the next program.

The more you learn about something, the more experience you have. So I would like to find out more about space and keep studying. And I would like to pass my knowledge on to children, who are going to create the future. If I have a child in the future, I will take him or her to a planetarium often, and shower them with my knowledge of Jupiter, too. (laugh)

Terada: Please do. (laugh) Thank you very much for joining us, today. We will do our best to meet your expectations.

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