Koichi Wakata, Japan’s Longest Serving Astronaut, Envisions Future of Private Sector-Led Manned Space and Lunar Missions

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Astronaut Koichi Wakata, right, receives a bouquet of flowers on Friday in Tokyo.

Koichi Wakata, Japan’s longest serving astronaut, told a press conference in Tokyo on Friday that he wants to support the private sector in manned space missions that advance moon and Mars exploration even after he retires from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at the end of March. The 60-year-old veteran, who has completed five spaceflights — a record for Japanese astronauts — was full of gratitude: “It was thanks to the many people that supported me that I was able to complete my work.”

Wakata was selected as an astronaut candidate for the National Space Development Agency of Japan (now JAXA) in 1992. Since his first flight in 1996, he has accumulated many firsts for a Japanese astronaut, from staying aboard the International Space Station (ISS) long-term to serving as commander. He has also spent about 504 days in space cumulatively, more than any other Japanese astronaut.

During the press conference, Wakata reflected on the 32 years that have passed since he was selected as an astronaut candidate: “I took the baton from the industry greats and worked with great fervor to contribute to Japan’s manned space missions.”

Wakata pointed out that although the ISS will end operations in 2030, “in the future, the private sector will lead manned space missions.” He announced that he would continue to be active in the private sector even after he retires and said: “The day Japanese people stand on the lunar surface is just around the corner. I want to help make it possible for more people to go to space.” Moreover, he intends to continue to play an active role: “I still want to make my seventh or eighth spaceflight. I always want to take on challenges.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Astronaut Koichi Wakata speaks at a press conference on Friday in Tokyo.