image credit : NASA
Chiaki Mukai was selected as a payload specialist for the International Microgravity Laboratory on board the space shuttle Columbia in July 1994. She became the first woman Japanese astronaut.
During her second flight in 1998, she served on board the Discovery with John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth (1962). He said Mukai had “more energy than anyone I know of.”
On the seventh day on Discovery, during a conversation with Japan’s Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Yutaka Takeyama, the head of the Science and Technology Agency by communication link, Chiaki Mukai read a poem that she had written about being in space:
chuugaeri nandomo dekiru mujuuryoku
weightlessness turn space somersaults as many times as I like (translation from JAXA site)
The National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) asked the Japanese public to think of two lines with seven syllables to finish her poem making it a tanka with an overall rhythm of 5-7-5-7-7. NASDA also asked the public to come up with a name for her teddy bear, which she called Discovery’s eighth crew member. More than 40,000 people from inside of Japan and nearly 700 people from abroad took part in the competition. See the link below for the poem results.
Chiaki Muaki focused on medical and scientific experiments related to the effects of zero gravity. Kids on Earth conducted two of the same experiments to observe the germination of cucumbers and how corn and bean roots grow. Their findings were sent to NASDA. Mukai and NASDA staff compared their results to Mukai’s results on board Discovery. For more information see the link below.
Chiaki Mukai has received many awards for her contributions to science. France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor, was awarded to her in February 2015 for her contribution to strengthen cooperation between France and Japan in the field of space exploration.
for information about other women at NASA Women @NASA