Japan astronaut Satoshi Furukawa reprimanded over research data fabrication

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, left, apologizes during a press conference in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Thursday.

Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa has been reprimanded by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) after it was discovered that data in a research project he oversaw was fabricated and altered.

“I keenly feel the responsibility for undermining trust. I sincerely apologize,” Furukawa said at a press conference Thursday.

The project aimed to examine how stress accumulates in the human body when ordinary people stay in a confined space for two weeks. Forty people participated in a total of five such experiments, conducted in 2016 and 2017.

It was later found that, among other problems, blood samples taken from the experiment’s subjects were mixed up. The project was axed in 2019, and in 2020 an external party discovered that some data had been fabricated or altered.

According to JAXA, Furukawa did not directly handle the data, and he was apparently unaware of any inappropriate conduct until 2020. However, JAXA determined that Furukawa was responsible for supervising the research and issued a disciplinary warning on Tuesday.

Furukawa, 58, is scheduled to make his second long-term stay on the International Space Station this year. The problems with the research project have not affected those plans.

According to a JAXA public relations official, disciplinary actions range from dismissal, which is the most severe action, down through suspension, a pay cut or a warning. The agency’s internal regulations stipulate that individual instances of pay cuts and warnings do not need to be made public.

However, JAXA did announce Wednesday that a 53-year-old male researcher involved in altering the data would be suspended for two weeks because his actions had damaged the scientific value of the entire research project.

In addition, JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa and Senior Vice President Kazuhiro Suzuki have been issued warnings, and Vice President Hiroshi Sasaki, who is in charge of the Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate, also received a warning.

Yamakawa, Suzuki and Sasaki will voluntarily forfeit 10% of one month’s salary. Yamakawa “sincerely apologized” in a statement for acts that betrayed the goodwill of the people who participated in the research experiments.