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I want to go to space so much, a one-way ticket would be fine!

Shoko Nakagawa is a popular entertainer who appears on many TV programs. On a TBS science program she hosted, called Tobidase! Kagaku-kun, she did such things as boarding the manned research submersible Shinkai 6500 to report on the world 5,000 meters beneath the ocean surface. In this interview, Koji Terada, Director of JAXA’s Public Affairs Department, asks Ms. Nakagawa about her interest in space.

Shoko Nakagawa
Ms. Nakagawa was born in Tokyo on May 5, 1985. Since winning the Miss Weekly Shōnen Magazine contest and making her entertainment debut in 2002, she has appeared on many TV shows. Her hobbies include computer illustration, reading, gaming, movies, anime and cosplay (costume play). She is also skilled at nunchucks. In 2012, in celebration of her 10th anniversary in show business, she did her first Asia concert tour as well as a national tour of Japan.

  • ”I love space so much, not a day goes by when I don’t think about it”
  • ”Jupiter is my first love”
  • ”I can’t help being attracted to Pluto”
  • After a 5,000-meter dive, the next target is space
  • Reporting from Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
  • ”I want a lot of surprises while I am alive!”
  • No need for a reason for humans to go to space
  • ”Push open the door to space”
  • Sharing the fun and excitement of space with children

”I love space so much, not a day goes by when I don’t think about it”

Terada: What kind of image do you have of JAXA?

Nakagawa: To my mind, JAXA is Japan’s treasure because it develops and opens up a variety of things. To me, JAXA is at the forefront of the history of humankind, carrying all our hopes and expectations, so the people who work at JAXA are my heroes. I have great expectations for JAXA!

When I visited the Tsukuba Space Center for a TV show, I was very surprised by the size of the premises and the amount of greenery. I had an opportunity to meet with astronaut Soichi Noguchi. To tell you the truth, I’d like to try the astronaut test someday, so the word JAXA is always in my head. I also like the sound of the name JAXA.

Terada: Thank you very much. I heard that you have a great love for space.

Nakagawa: Yes, I do. I love space so much not a day goes by when I don’t think about it. I’m usually kind of negative, but learning new things about space makes me feel more positive and excited. When I look at the history of the universe, I feel our lifespan is like dust. That helps me forget daily annoyances, and my troubles disappear. No stomach medicine works as well for me, so thinking about space is good for me. But I thought my head would explode from excitement when Prof. Junichi Watanabe at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, whom I once interviewed on a TV program, told me that the universe is like 11 dimentions folded into a fan shape. I didn’t understand what that meant. I thought that my head probably would burst if I kept thinking about it. So when I think about space, I do it sparingly, just like eating expensive cheese, little by little.

”Jupiter is my first love”

Terada: What are you particularly interested in about space?

Jupiter (courtesy: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
Jupiter (courtesy: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Nakagawa: I am interested in the gas giants of our solar system. I am especially fond of Jupiter. I think that gaseous planets hold more fantasy than rocky planets. To tell you the truth, Jupiter is my first love. I find its striped pattern and mass, which is the largest in the solar system, very cool. When Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 collided with Jupiter, it created a massive hole on the surface, large enough to hold several objects the size of Earth. But Jupiter kept rotating as if nothing had happened. I fell for Jupiter when I saw the image of it rotating normally, despite such damage (laugh).

I can talk endlessly about its attractions. So far, scientists have found 66 of Jupiter’s satellites – I like the fact that it has so many “children.” Also, a few years ago, there was a time when Jupiter’s Great Red Spot turned slightly white – I like that Jupiter is never the same and doesn’t bore us. Also, with its large mass and intense gravity, Jupiter sucked up a comet that was on a dangerous course towards Earth. When I learned about that, that’s when I fell in love with Jupiter (laugh). Jupiter is so cool, I think about it every day. Jupiter is big and generous. It’s even cool and strong when it gets hurt. It is really my Mr. Right.

Terada: So Jupiter is male. (laugh)

Nakagawa: Yes. I like personalizing things. I also like Uranus but, in my mind, it is female because it is aqua colored and cute. The axis of rotation of Uranus is nearly horizontal, and it is fun to imagine that the planet is always doing “panchira” [giving a peak at her panties] to Earth. (laugh) I enjoy thinking about space very much.

”I can’t help being attracted to Pluto”

Terada: What attracted you to space in the first place?

Nakagawa: When I was in elementary school, my grandfather often took me to the local planetarium. That’s how I got introduced to the world of space. I think I got really interested in fifth grade. At the time, Comet Hale-Bopp was approaching Earth, and I could see it in the sky at dusk. I was afraid of what would happen if it collided with Earth, but at the same time I thought it was very beautiful. I felt this very strange mix of fear and enchantment. That was the moment I got interested in space. And when I looked at Comet Hale-Bopp with a pair of binoculars my grandfather bought me, it looked much bigger. Its strangeness overwhelmed me. I had this urge to learn more about space, and so I joined the Nakano Stargazers Club. The members were all elderly except me. I was the only child, but I used to go to astronomical observations with them. And soon I began to study space with picture books, and started liking Jupiter very much.

Terada: Are you interested in planetary exploration missions, too?

Nakagawa: Yes, I am. I followed the news about the return of the asteroid explorer HAYABUSA, and I’ve read books about it, too. People put their feelings and thoughts into what they make. It seems to me that HAYABUSA knew this, and so did its best to fulfill the mission assigned to it. I think HAYABUSA is a wonderful project, and a treasure and pride of people on Earth. It’s the kind of miracle that only humans and manmade things can perform. Science is really wonderful. HAYABUSA reconfirmed for me that the advancement of science supports the further evolution of humankind.

Terada: Which space missions are you following now?

Pluto Explorer New Horizons (courtesy: NASA)
Pluto Explorer New Horizons (courtesy: NASA)

Nakagawa: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is making its way to Pluto, and its arrival is scheduled in 2015. There are no clear images of Pluto yet because it’s too far away from us, but when the spacecraft arrives there, we will finally be able to see Pluto clearly. This is what I am looking forward to most at the moment.

As a matter of fact, I have a connection with Pluto. I couldn’t forgive Pluto when it crossed Neptune’s orbit. I used to think of Pluto, “You are a planet, but you are smaller than the Moon. Just who do you think you are?!” So I never liked it at all. However, in 2006, Pluto was suddenly demoted to dwarf-planet status. At first I was pleased, but soon I started feeling sorry for it... So I apologized to Pluto on my blog. Later, I wondered why I had struggled so much to take my mind off Pluto, so I did some research about it, and found out that one of my ancestors, Hoei Nojiri, was the astronomer who gave it its Japanese name, “Meiousei”! I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop caring about Pluto, but I now believe that it was because of that connection.

After a 5,000-meter dive, the next target is space

Terada: Are you interested in going to space?

Manned Research Submersible SHINKAI 6500 (courtesy: JAMSTEC)
Manned Research Submersible SHINKAI 6500 (courtesy: JAMSTEC)

Nakagawa: Yes! In 2009, for the TV show Tobidase! Kagaku-kun, I dived 5,000 meters below sea level on the research submersible Shinkai 6500. I got the impression that the deep sea was very much like space. There were creatures with very strange shapes. I also saw marine snow. Its light is too subtle to be captured by a camera, but it was twinkling beautifully. Not only that, each light had a different and strange shape. I thought the mystery of the deep sea was as great as the mystery of the universe. I was told I was the first person in show business to go 5,000 meters below the ocean surface. Then, I thought, I must go to space, too. I don’t think many people have experienced both the deep sea and space, so I would love to make it happen.

Terada: Are you not afraid of going to space?

Nakagawa: On the deep-sea trip, I thought about death for the first time when the dive began, because I knew that if something happened, I couldn’t make it back to the surface by myself. However, my curiosity was stronger, so the fear disappeared right away. I thought that as long as I could do a deep-sea dive, it would be alright to die. I imagine that I would also have a similar fear about going to space, worrying that the rocket might burn up, for example. But after takeoff, I expect that the fear would go away.

Terada: Did you have any training for the dive?

Nakagawa: No, I didn’t. I just needed to report my weight and the weight of my belongings. Unlike going to space, it was very easy. I was allowed to bring some snacks, too. The inside of the Shinkai 6500 is so small it can take only three passengers. So I went down with just the two pilots, without the cinematographer or the director of the TV show. Naturally I needed to learn things like how to change camera tapes, but I did not have any problems with them. The Shinkai 6500 protects you from the pressure of the deep sea, so you don’t feel much pressure, and therefore there is no need for special training. It would be wonderful if going to space ever become that easy – then I could go to space even when I’m old.

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