The information on this page was published in the past, thus it may be different from the current status.
To check the date of issuance, please refer to the following URL for the list of interviews, or for the list of special articles.

First Extended Stay in Space by a Japanese Astronaut- Astronaut Koichi Wakata's Mission on the International Space Station -
A Mission with Astronaut Wakata E. Michael Fincke NASA Astronaut, International Space Station Commander

A Friendship Forged Through Space

Q. You stayed on the International Space Station for six months at a time in 2004 and again in 2008-2009. What were your impressions of these two missions? What is the most remarkable thing about them?

International Space Station (Courtesy of NASA)
International Space Station (Courtesy of NASA)

I was very fortunate to spend one year aboard the International Space Station. This is the biggest space structure that human beings have ever built - human beings from all over our planet. It was very amazing. Every day we would look below and see our planet beneath us. And we were so proud that we could do something so constructive, working together. Especially when [Japanese astronaut] Koichi [Wakata] came - he was the first long-term Japanese aboard the Space Station. We installed a solar panel together. And we felt that, yes, all of our partners are working very hard together, making something as wonderful as the International Space Station.

Q. Can you explain your role as a mission commander on the ISS?

The crew commander is responsible for crew safety, making sure everybody is safe in case there is an emergency. And also for working with the crew and the ground to get a good working plan together so that we can have the best mission possible. To be a commander you have to have a lot of space experience. I had already flown aboard space stations, so I was commander of this mission.

Q. What are some of the important things you need for a long stay on the ISS?

Earth viewed from the ISS (Courtesy of NASA)
Earth viewed from the ISS (Courtesy of NASA)

In a short mission, for example two weeks on a space shuttle, many things have to be accomplished. Everybody has to work very hard every day. But if you try that for six months, or four months, or three months, that will not be optimum. If a person works so hard for so long and never takes a break, then they cannot do the work as efficiently.
So, the main thing on the long-duration missions is to take it easy: get the job done every day and take a rest on the weekends. Look out the window, enjoy the view of planet Earth. And then you'll be able to get more work done because you are relaxed and rested. Also, it's very important to keep in touch with your family. I was able to talk to my family in Texas every day.
Koichi also, he has a beautiful family, and I know he spent time talking with them. On a short mission you are so busy, you don't have much of a chance to keep in touch with your family. But on the long missions it's very important.

Q. What type of space experiments had you participated in on past missions? How do these experiments contribute to life on Earth?

Astronaut Fincke working on the European Columbus Laboratory (Courtesy of NASA)
Astronaut Fincke working on the European Columbus Laboratory (Courtesy of NASA)

The wonderful part about being on the space station is that even though I am American, I still participated in many countries' experiments, including the Japanese ones: for example, the important work with Tokyo University of seeing how cells and genes change once they're exposed to zero gravity. On the American side, we did some flame experiments with fire. And we have also done many physiological experiments on human bodies. On Expedition 18, with the help of Koichi, we were able to do twice as much science as we had originally planned because we were a very efficient crew.
Some experiments contribute right away, and some experiments will contribute over the long term. One discovery might not be helpful tomorrow, but 10 years from now, combined with another discovery, it could lead to a major breakthrough. By learning how a lot of things work in space without gravity, we can better understand how they work on Earth. It makes for better technology and better living on the planet.

Japanese Experiment Module Kibo Like a Dream

Q. The shuttle launch that brought Astronaut Wakata to the ISS was delayed for a month. While you were waiting on the space station for the shuttle, how did you feel?

Well, we were very much looking forward to the arrival of Koichi. And of course Sandy [Astronaut Sandra Magnus] had been up there since November 2008. And she had to wait an extra month to return. It was disappointing a little bit, because we were hoping to see Koichi sooner. And for Sandy, it was time to go home. But we understand that the space shuttle is not always on time for various reasons.
So we were patient, and sure enough Koichi came. And I returned home by the Russian Soyuz TMA-4 spacecraft, one month after he came.

Q. What was your impression when you met Astronaut Wakata?

Astronauts Wakata and Fincke on the ISS (Courtesy of NASA)
Astronauts Wakata and Fincke on the ISS (Courtesy of NASA)

I was so happy when I met him on the ISS. I met Koichi when I was visiting NASA before I became an astronaut. And he gave me his business card. I still have the card that he gave me a long time ago. And then I became an astronaut, and I looked up to Koichi so much. He's my senior.
I thought he was such a wonderful astronaut, and I was so happy to have a chance to fly with him aboard the space station, because we'd have a whole month together. That's a long time in space. I was so happy because I've known him for so long - 16, 17 years. One month in space is a long time, so it is really nice to be with someone you know very well.

Q. You have experienced a longterm stay on the ISS. How do you think Astronaut Wakata did during his mission as a senior?

Koichi is, I think, a real hero. Because he has such a good attitude. He worked very hard. And we were able to have some time together. We would have nice dinners together and talk about our day. Koichi's work ethic and his efficiency and… he is so smart. He was such a help on both missions.

Q. What do you think of the Japanese experiment module Kibo?

Astronaut Fincke working in the Kibo airlock (Courtesy of NASA)
Astronaut Fincke working in the Kibo airlock (Courtesy of NASA)

Kibo is wonderful. It is the largest module on the ISS. It is also the most quiet module. It's a like living in a dream to live and work inside Kibo. I spent time in Kibo every day. Every day I did my best to help with the experiments and to take good care of people. It was my duty as ISS commander, and it was my enjoyment.

1   2