5thstarJun 22, 2009

Reach for the Stars

by 5thstar

5thstar 5thstar is a webmaster of a group of people who were the semi-final applicants in NASDA's 1995 astronaut selection. (The National Space Development Agency of Japan or NASDA was merged with two other space agencies to become the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA in 2003.) Going through medical checks and interviews for an incredible week, those forty-some wannabes were tied with a unique bond of friendship. 5thstar reapplied in 1998, and became one of the eight finalists to experience an extensive psychological group survey in NASDA's isolation chamber for a week. The finalists were also interviewed by honorable astronauts at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He maintains a private blog to advocate space exploration, where he posted English translations of media briefings by JAXA about MUSES-C, a.k.a. Hayabusa, when it touched down on asteroid Itokawa.

My special thanks to Emily, for inviting me as a guest blogger to the Planetary Society. I am, just like you, a fan of space exploration and astronomy since my childhood days in a small island of Japan.

Have you ever wondered? What are the chances for you yourself to go into space? Buying a ticket on Soyuz is one thing, if you have succeeded in your business. Here I'm talking about being selected as a professional astronaut by space agencies such as NASA, ESA or JAXA.

The answer is, one in five hundred.

Or, somewhere between one in two hundred or one in five hundred.

Not that small, is it?

Well, that's the chance of becoming Japanese astronauts, among those who actually registered.

And that's what I did. Twice. I became one of 48 candidates in 1995, and one of the eight finalists in 1998 at the selection process held by Japanese space agency NASDA (now JAXA).

I was lucky, in retrospect. If you were living in the US or in Europe, there would be many more applicants and the chances would have become almost ten times less.

Nonetheless, the astronaut selection was a far more extraordinary and wonderful experience than I had ever imagined. I've met a bunch of space fans of various backgrounds and talents from all across the country, who share the dream of going into space. I sat in the cockpit of T-38, experienced the launch sequence in the Shuttle simulator, talked a lot with my fellow applicants about how we would feel to walk on the Moon, Mars and beyond.

In my childhood, watching celestial events such as a total lunar eclipse and the Apollo Moon landing, defined a drive for my curiosity, and in turn, my career. I owe my school teacher who closed her class for the day, and let us come home to watch the TV as Mr. Armstrong stepped down on the Moon. At night, the sky was dark in my countryside town, and the dim of the Milky Way was eminent enough to inspire me of the awe Galileo Galilei would have had.

Decades later at the astronaut selection, I was so excited to meet people who shared this sense of wonder.

So we, the applicants, became friends to each other. The group who experienced the 1995 selection became "5thstar", which refers to the NASDA's fifth Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The second group I belong to is called "Issac98", which stands for ISS Astronaut Club 1998.

Curiosity, imagination, and the desire for exploring the new world have been the root cause of expanding the horizon of our civilization, I believe. Whether it be from humans or rovers, great pictures and the knowledge of new worlds stir up our minds and lifts spirits. It is so nice to have friends with whom you can share the excitement of new findings and achievements of space exploration.

And we share our dreams.

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