Interview: Mamoru Mohri
we get into the specifics of this particular flight, I want you
to tell me about yourself. Why did you want to become an astronaut?
was selected as the first Japanese astronaut by the National Space
Development Agency of Japan, called NASDA, in 1985, I was a professor
of surface and vacuum science at Hokkaido University in Japan
where I mainly specialized in nuclear fusion materials. I wanted
to become an astronaut to study material sciences in microgravity
and in the real vacuum of space. It was my great pleasure to be
selected as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Endeavour Mission
STS-47 which launched in September 1992. This flight was called
Spacelab Japan. On this mission, we performed 43 experiments proposed
by Japanese and American scientists. We conducted material science
and life science experiments in the unique environment of space.
We spent eight days in space, and every day I felt as if I was
in "Alice in Wonderland". Everything I saw no longer fit within
its known parameters. So as a scientist, I could explain what
was occurring around me and yet I was very much entranced.
did you get to be where you are right now?
first mission, I went back to Japan to work as a manager in NASDA's
astronaut office for four years. Then I returned to NASA in 1996
to begin training as a Mission Specialist for another spaceflight.
I was very fortunate to be assigned to this Earth observation
mission because, as a surface physicist in the previous mission,
I noticed some similarities in surface topography between material
surface and Earth's surfaces. Using electron, ion or photon beam
technology, I analyzed many different material surfaces like alloys,
semiconductors, and ceramics. For example, when I watched the
surface of the Sahara Desert from the space shuttle, it looked
just like the composite material surface being seen through an
electron microscope. One is a large-scale view of hundreds of
kilometers where the other is on a very, very small scale in micrometers.
As an expert in surface topography in atomic scale which means
that I am accustomed to looking at infinitesimal objects, or immeasurably
tiny objects, I was fascinated by these similarities and relative
views of materials. In addition to these similarities, a technique
to be used on our Surface Radar Topography Mission is similar
to one I used when working on small materials. That is a radar
beam from the space shuttle touches the Earth's surface, radio
waves are reflected and are received by the antenna and then recorded
to obtain surface topography. In my previous work in atomic scale
surface, we used electrons, ions or photons as primary beams and
detected signals from the surface. So the basic idea and techniques
between the two studies are similar, although the observation
areas have huge differences.
summarize for me what you will be doing during this particular
flight. What are your primary responsibilities?
I am primarily
responsible for recording reflected radio waves, and operating
the data recorder and a laptop computer that controls the data
being recorded. There are three recorders on the flight deck to
be used for normal data takes and three on the mid-deck as spares
for a contingency situation. We run two recorders normally; one
for C-band radar and one for X-band radar observation. Because
a C-band radar tape lasts 30 minutes and an X-band radar tape
last 60 minutes for data takes, I'll be pretty busy just changing
tapes on these recorders. In addition to this, I will have to
check the position of the outboard antenna by a different laptop
computer. We also have to back up scientists on the ground in
case they cannot uplink certain commands for the payloads.
is the data being recorded instead of downlinked live?
of acquired data using the C- or X-band radar is much larger than
the shuttle's present real time downlinking capability. That's
why we have to carry over 300 recording tapes onboard. However,
in order to check the quality of acquired data, we sometimes downlink
or playback data at a slow rate.
type of tapes are being used to collect the data?
We use Sony
19-millimeter recording tapes on the radar portion of this mission
which are the only other things made in Japan besides me.
we will learn about the Earth from the data acquired on this mission?
a lot of benefits for our lives. For example, some of you might
remember four years ago in January 1995 one of the most beautiful
harbor cities in Japan, Kobe, was damaged by an enormous earthquake
and more than five thousand people were killed. This tragedy happened
because of the fact that some houses were built on a fault, and
this fault could not be predicted to cause such serious damage.
If we had known the land more precisely, thousands of lives could
have been saved. There are many such unstable ground areas in
the world and in the future we may be able to alert people who
live in such areas about imminent dangers.
additional roles do you play in this flight?
I will also
conduct a couple of secondary payload experiments with a high
definition TV camera taking videotape using new precision techniques.
This is a collaborative experiment between NASDA and NASA. This
new technique will bring greater quality to the pictures comparable
to that of motion pictures. In other words, the concept is much
closer to that of real life. Instead of just looking at a picture
on a screen, you will see the Earth's surface as if you were the
astronaut seeing it from space. I call this technique "viewer
friendly" because the viewer will be able to vividly see the Earth's
surface dimensions. The viewer will be able to tell the difference
between mountains, rivers, lakes, volcanoes, et cetera. Let me
emphasize that the mission's primary objective is radar technology.
High definition TV is supplementary. This is our first time to
use this new technique exclusively for Earth observation. We hope
that scientists will make new discoveries from the tapes taken
by high definition TV.
talk about the international partners on the flight. What are
the different international partners contributing?
As you know,
Japan is one of the major contributors to the International Space
Station Project. We have performed microgravity experiments, robotics,
and extravehicular activity engineering together with NASA in
the previous shuttle missions. This mission, STS-99, will be a
paradigm of international collaboration in the field of Earth
observation which will play a very important role in the International
Space Station Project.
me about EarthKam. Is it comparable in any way to the flight's
This is a
part of a student education program proposed by The University
of California at San Diego. Intermediate school students are able
to take photographs of the Earth by commanding an electronic camera
located on the flight deck window. This is also the first time
Japanese students will participate in this program. I think this
will be a very good opportunity for them to learn about the environment
of the Earth. It will also be advantageous for them to share ideas
with students in other countries by way of the Internet and having
to communicate in English. Four schools in Japan are participating
in the program. In addition, NASDA has recruited approximately
100 other schools in Japan who are very interested in being able
to study the photographs that will be available on the Internet.
This technology offers a new educational tool for these students.
The school children of Japan are very enthusiastic about the program.