5 Aug 2014

Japanese Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki Visits OIST

On August 2, Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki visited OIST to deliver a talk entitled “Linking Space, People, and Dreams,” in which she discussed the eleven years she spent training to achieve her lifelong dream of space flight. Her 15 days on the International Space Station in 2010 made her the second Japanese woman to travel to space.

Yamazaki grew interested in astronomy at age 7, when she first peered through a telescope and saw the moon’s craters and Saturn’s rings.  But only when she saw the Challenger disaster on television in 1986 did she consider that humans could travel to space. She immediately decided that despite the risks, she wanted to be an astronaut. She pursued engineering, and entered astronaut training in 1999.

Astronaut training is hard work. “The first time, I failed the screening,” Yamazaki said in her talk. Many of her tests were unusual; few were on paper. For example, Yamazaki had three hours to complete a jigsaw puzzle, except every piece of the puzzle was white. Without a picture to guide her, Yamazaki only completed the outside edge of the puzzle, leaving the inside empty.

Luckily, said Yamazaki, “It was not important whether you finished or not. What was important was how you searched for solutions.” By keeping her composure and continuing to work, Yamazaki demonstrated that she could continue to solve problems in a high-pressure environment.

Many in the audience who came to listen to the lecture could relate to Yamazaki’s persistence in pursuing her goals, such as Chihori Sakuma, a student at Naha High School.  Sakuma says she wants to be a doctor, and she knows that there is an arduous training period ahead of her. “Space and medicine are very different,” Sakuma explained, “but both require a lot of training, and still they are connected to each other.”

One visitor, Mr. Nakamura attended the talk with his son. Nakamura said that Yamazaki has re-inspired him to be an astronaut himself. “I applied to the astronaut program six years ago,” Nakamura explained, but he was not accepted. After listening to Yamazaki’s story, I want more and more to go to space.”

 

By Poncie Rutsch

By Poncie Rutsch


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