Koichi Wakata sets new record for most space missions by Japanese astronaut

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Koichi Wakata and three other astronauts entered their scheduled orbit on Wednesday after a successful launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is on his fifth space mission, breaking his own record for the most by a Japanese astronaut.

“It was a very smooth launch,” Wakata said in Japanese on a live video broadcast. “I’ll try to keep up the good work with my team.”

The Crew Dragon was scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station at about 5 p.m. Thursday. The four crew members will stay on the ISS for about six months.

The spacecraft also carried two U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, 38. Kikina is the first Russian to fly aboard a Crew Dragon. During their stay on the ISS, Wakata and his crewmates plan to conduct experiments in the Japanese laboratory Kibo to test the properties of lubricants used for a lunar rover.

Ahead of the launch, Wakata said, “As an experienced astronaut, I want to play a role in supporting the rookie astronauts.”

“There are things that only someone with experience can tell them, such as how to deal with space sickness. I want to help them make a smooth transition to the ISS environment,” he said.

Wakata has led space missions, including one in which he served as the first Japanese commander of the ISS. His fifth space mission is also likely to see him setting multiple records.

At 59 years old, Wakata’s latest mission makes him the oldest Japanese astronaut to have flown in space. Former JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi set the previous record when he turned 56 during a six-month stay on the ISS from November 2020.

Wakata’s stay on the ISS will be his fourth, also surpassing the record of three held by Noguchi and himself. Currently, Noguchi tops the list of Japanese astronauts with the most days on the ISS at 335, but Wakata is certain to significantly exceed this record during his six-month stay.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn attention to the future of international cooperation on the ISS. While Wakata was serving as ISS commander in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine, escalating tensions between the United States and Russia. Wakata said he encouraged the U.S. and Russian astronauts at the time to have dinner together to maintain communication among the crew members.

“I understand the various geopolitical situations,” Wakata said. “What astronauts can do is to cooperate with each other and produce results on the ISS.”

From left: Astronauts Anna Kikina of Russia, Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann of the United States, and Koichi Wakata pose for a photo at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday.