Astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) docked to the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:01 p.m. EST on Monday, successfully completing the first of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) flights.
Noguchi was with three NASA astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience, which lifted off Sunday evening from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The four astronauts, known as Crew-1, are on a six-month science mission and will work with three others who arrived at the station through a Soyuz capsule last month.
Noguchi, 55, is the most experienced member of Crew-1, being the third person in history to fly into orbit on three different types of spacecraft (following NASA astronauts Wally Schirra and John Young).
Noguchi’s childhood encircled an interest in rockets, spacecraft and space adventures, coming from shows such as Star Wars, Star Trek and Japanese anime, he told NASA in a preflight interview. After seeing the STS-1 launch in 1981, the first orbital spaceflight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, he had a keen interest in becoming a space traveler.
He acquired various degrees at the University of Tokyo which includes a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering in 1989, a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1991 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies this year.
An aeronautical engineer by training and profession, Noguchi first arrived at the ISS in July 2005 as part of STS-114, the first “Return to Flight” Space Shuttle mission following the Columbia disaster.
In December 2009, he went back to the ISS for Expedition 22/23, becoming the first JAXA astronaut and second Japanese citizen (after Tokyo Broadcasting System reporter Toyohiro Akiyama) to fly on a Soyuz spacecraft (Soyuz TMA-17).
Noguchi’s arrival with NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker to join the current Expedition 64 marks the first time the ISS will operate with a seven-member crew.
“It is an honor to have our Japanese astronaut launch on this Crew-1 Dragon as the first astronaut of the International Partner participating in the ISS program,” JAXA Vice President Hiroshi Sasaki said in a statement. “We look forward to having him conduct lots of science and demonstrate the technology, for here on Earth and for the future.”
Noguchi lauded SpaceX for its “speed and flexibility” while he and his crewmates were training at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
“Everything was close by, meaning that during the training, if I had some deep questions, technical questions, the engineer who created those displays was right across the floor, or the technician who actually built it was one floor down,” Noguchi told Spaceflight Now.
However, he faced issues as a Japanese national, particularly in relation to the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which limits access to satellite hardware and technical drawings for foreigners. He had trouble getting diagrams and drawings to learn.
“I try not to be considered as a spy, and also I would like to get the information to become a safe operator…But, of course, SpaceX and also my crew are really helping me to understand and become a good operator,” Noguchi said.
Resilience’s departure inspired a moment of national solidarity in Japan. For one, elementary schools, including Noguchi’s alma mater, held public viewings for Sunday’s launch.
“I was happy that the launch was successful. I want to do my best like Mr. Noguchi as I prepare for my junior school entrance exams,” 12-year-old Shimon Tashiro told Kyodo News, adding that he wants to develop food for space in the future.
Meanwhile, Noguchi’s wife, Miwa, described the launch as “extremely impressive.”
“I look forward to a successful mission as (the astronauts) strive in their work, to be sure to bring to the next generation (new) technology, spirit and hope,” she said.