Tokyo, Feb 18 (Kyodo) A Japanese astronaut will serve asthe first Japanese captain of the International Space Stationduring his stay from the end of 2013, the Japan AerospaceExploration Agency said here.
For his fourth space mission and his second long-termassignment, Koichi Wakata (47) will stay at the ISS for sixmonths after traveling there aboard Russia''s Soyuz spacecraft,during which he will take command in the last two months ofthe mission, JAXA said.
''''I''m truly grateful for being given such a greatopportunity,'''' Wakata said yesterday in a teleconference forthe press linking the Tokyo-based JAXA office and Houston,Texas, where he usually trains.
''''(My appointment as commander) is beyond what Iexpected. I feel greatly honored, given that Japan is the onlycountry that has not produced an ISS captain (among countriesinvolved in the space project),'''' he said.
He also said he intends to unite his team as a Japanesewho puts a premium on harmonious relationships.
During the first four months in orbit, Wakata willconduct scientific experiments using JAXA''s Kibo (Hope) spacelaboratory.
On Wakata''s new assignment, Prime Minister Naoto Kan toldreporters at his official residence, ''''It''s great. I wish Iwere him as I wanted to be an astronaut or build a rocket whenI was a kid.''''
Wakata, a Saitama Prefecture native and graduate ofKyushu University, began his space career in 1992 afterworking as an engineer at Japan Airlines Corp.
He flew on space shuttle missions in 1996 and 2000 beforean extended stay at the ISS in 2009.
He is known for his skill at handling robotic arms inouter space, which he put to good use in retrieving a Japanesesatellite from orbit and in fitting Japan''s Kibo lab at theISS with an external experiment facility. (Kyodo)