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Campus Now

Spring Verdure Issue (May)

Messages to Their Second Century

Expectations for global space development and cooperative partnerships which exceed the boundaries of Japan

Mr. Takayoshi Nishikawa, Senior Developer
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Manned Space Environment Utilization Mission Department
JEM Operation Technology Center

Takayoshi Nishikawa holds the position of Flight Director and leads the Operations Flight Office for the Tsukuba Space Center’s experimental module “Kibo.” Nishikawa works in cooperation with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and with ground flight control staff. We held a discussion with Nishikawa regarding the start of his work in space exploration, the rewards of his work, and his expectations towards Waseda University.

Suddenly on the path to space development

-- Could you please discuss the details of your work?

The Kibo research module, Japan’s first manned space facility, was attached to the International Space Station (ISS) in 3 stages from 2008 to 2009. Inside of the module, a variety of experiments are conducted through communication between the astronaut and operations flight staff. The Operations Flight Office of the Tsukuba Space Center monitors the condition of system devices and Japanese experiment facilities loaded aboard the experimental module Kibo. The office is also responsible for the transmission of control commands and the management of operation plans, as well as communication with astronauts and coordination with the operations flight centers of each country, with a focus on NASA. The Flight Director is responsible for all aspects of flight operations for Kibo. The Flight Director acts as leader for all work and coordinates the actions of operations flight members who possess specialized knowledge in the experiments and systems of Kibo. Currently, I am in charge of this April’s space shuttle mission which will feature the astronaut Naoko Yamazaki. I am now conducting final confirmation of the work plan and operations material for the mission. (This interview was conducted in March 16th).

--How did you become involved in space development?

When I was a graduate student, I participated in a summer school held by NASDA, the precursor to JAXA. Many of the staff at JAXA have liked outer space and rockets since they were small children and have always dreamed of working in space development. However, I might have uttered the word “space” once a year. I didn’t feel much intimacy with space development. When I was a student, I was interested analyzing the performance of professional athletes from a scientific standpoint. Therefore, I majored in biomechanics in university. During university, I conducted research in the design and manufacturing of a device for measuring the force exerted on bicycle pedals. My research combined motion analysis and measurement of muscle movement in order to examine from multiple perspectives the action of muscles while pedaling. I decided to participate in the summer school when I was invited by my friend. At the summer school, I participated in lectures regarding Japan’s satellites, rocket development, ISS plans, and plans for future space development. All of the contents were new and exciting for me. In particular, I will never forget the thrill that I felt at the overwhelming power of a lecture given by Chiaki Mukai. At the time, Kibo was still under development and construction of the ISS had not yet begun. Although I had already received job offers from other corporations, I decided to challenge myself and embark on a career in space development. I felt that such a career would be very rewarding.

The thrill of encountering global technology

-- What were some of the advantages of choosing to study at Waseda University?

Waseda University has a full range of facilities for conducting high level research. The laboratories at Waseda were equipped with cameras capable of photographing high-speed phenomenon and with special measurement equipment. I studied at the Tokorozawa Campus, and I remember how I often used the computer room and the library on campus. Also, a vast collection of books and a search system made it convenient to search for overseas materials and research. It was a truly outstanding environment during a time in which use of the internet was still not so widespread.

-- What do you wish you had done during your days as a student?

I wish I had undertaken a thorough study of language as an overseas exchange student, and I wish I had experienced a variety of spoken English. Plans for the ISS are advanced through the cooperation of 15 countries including America, Japan, Canada, European countries, and Russia. At the Operations Flight Office, it is essential to use English to communicate with the operations flight staff of NASA and with astronauts from various countries. However, a variety of different English is spoken according to the country. I had a difficult time communicating when I first began my work, and I studied as hard as I could. The NASA homepage was a very useful educational material. NASA TV allows listeners to hear communications between ISS astronauts and operations flight staff, as well as hear explanations of missions. NASA TV also contains a wide range of science and engineering contents related to outer space. NASA also offers fundamental educational materials that allow students to learn natural English while also studying about space.

-- Would you please discuss the rewards of working as a Flight Director?

Space development is glamorous and dream-inspiring work. However, it is no overstatement to say that 90% of my work is done before a mission begins. My work involves a great deal of preparation. In particular, I conduct advance examination of responses for when unforeseen circumstances arise during a critical operation. However, unexpected things happen in space, and it is not easy to coordinate matters with the flight centers of each country. I get a sense of fulfillment and reward when the operations flight team works together in tense circumstances that require rapid assessment of situations and giving of orders, guiding our mission to a success. Also, during my work in the Operations Flight Office, I have the valuable opportunity to see the operation of system devices and experimental equipment from NASA and Russia. This is the merit of participating in international projects where I can encounter global research and technology.

Space development has possibilities in fields other than science and engineering

-- What dreams do you have regarding your work in space development?

Someday, I myself would like to actually visit the ISS or travel in space. However, my most important task at the current time is to ensure the safety of Kibo. Only 2 years have passed since the assembly of Kibo has begun, and many experimental themes are scheduled for the future. I also believe that there will be more chances in the future to show the value of our work to society. By operating Kibo for as long as possible, there will be even more challenges and discoveries related to new technology and research. I am looking forward to such challenges.

-- Would you please discuss your expectations for Waseda University?

I hope that Waseda will promote educational activities based on space and on a variety of research fields related to the ISS. I believe that Waseda can take advantage of its strength as a general university to enable participation in the experiments and research of fields other than science and engineering. JAXA has conducted partnerships activities with a focus on the Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering. However, from last year, consideration has also been given to new cooperation in fields such as social sciences and human sciences. I hope that Waseda will expand beyond Japan and will continue to conduct long-term global research activities. In order to accomplish such a goal, I hope that our university will cooperate with other domestic and overseas universities, corporations and research institutions, in addition to JAXA.

Reference:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The International Space Station (left) and Japan’s experimental module “Kibo” (right). Photographed in February 2010. (Photograph provided by NASA.)

Mr. Takayoshi Nishikawa, Senior Developer
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Manned Space Environment Utilization Mission Department
JEM Operation Technology Center

Born in 1971. Graduated from the Department of Sports Sciences in the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University. After completing the program at the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, entered employment at the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA; currently the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)). His work includes the basic training of candidates for the position of astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS), international coordination related to the use and promotion of ISS plans, and range operations, management and preparation for Japan’s research module “Kibo.” Certified as a Flight Director in November 2008. From April 2009, supervised the 19th and 20th long-term space station missions (astronaut Koichi Wakata was aboard the space station for these missions). Currently, serves as a member of the Kibo operations flight team and is participating in the long-term mission of astronaut Soichi Noguchi. In April 2010, supervised the STS-131 mission undertaken by the astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.