Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi while training at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi traveled to the International Space Station aboard a space shuttle and a Russian capsule. He is now preparing to launch aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship, becoming only the third person to blast from Earth into orbit on three different types of spacecraft.

He will join a small club that, so far, includes only NASA astronauts Wally Shira and John Young. Schirra flew aboard NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules, while Young blasted into orbit on two Gemini flights, two Apollo missions, and launched two space shuttles.

“It is a great honor to have the same experience as Mr. John Young,” said Noguchi. “I still remember my astronaut nomination days, when I got back here in 1996, Jun Young was still piloting T-38s. So I had the privilege to travel with him. So it is definitely a huge honor.”

Noguchi flew to the space station in 2005 aboard the space shuttle Discovery on the first shuttle mission after the Columbia accident in 2003, in which seven astronauts died while returning. It was launched again in 2009 on a Russian Soyuz rocket on a 164-day expedition to the space station.

“For me, the three different spacecraft also have three different landing paths,” Noguchi told Spaceflight Now in a recent interview. The first was on a concrete runway, the second was on land in Kazakhstan, and that’s in the ocean. So the three different types of landings will make it really fun. ”

Noguchi flies to the space station under an arrangement between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. NASA is providing trips to the station to Japanese, European and Canadian astronauts in exchange for partner agencies paying their share of the space station’s operating costs.

“It’s interesting that in Japan, we don’t have our own spacecraft, but based on international cooperation, we can carry out this kind of big breakthrough,” said Noguchi. “Of course, there are a lot of people behind me. So this is just the beginning, but we are happy to witness this historic journey.”

Within a few years, the Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule, NASA’s Orion deep space vehicle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft will all fly with astronauts to destinations in Earth orbit and beyond. This means that more space flyers will soon have the opportunity to launch from Earth and land on three or more types of vehicles, to join Schirra, Young and Noguchi.

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(Editor’s note: This list does not include the Apollo astronauts who also launched from the moon inside NASA’s Lunar Module, as well as launch from Earth on various rockets.)

Soichi Noguchi inside the White Room at Platform 39B on July 26, 2005, before boarding the Space Shuttle Discovery on its maiden space flight. Credit: NASA

Noguchi, a 55-year-old flight engineer, has performed two space missions under his belt and has recorded more than 177 days in orbit so far. It is scheduled to start its third space flight on Sunday, to begin an expedition that is scheduled to last nearly six months.

Noguchi will join NASA Commander Mike Hopkins, Pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Shannon Walker in the Crew Dragon capsule as it launches Sunday night from Platform 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Crew Dragon take-off on top of a Falcon 9 rocket has been set at 7:27 PM EST (0027 GMT Monday), weather permitting.

Noguchi and his colleagues will embark on a six-month mission aboard the space station, culminating with a parachute-assisted water cannon in early May on their Crew Dragon spacecraft, which the astronauts have dubbed “flexibility.”

The launch this weekend will be the crew’s first patrol flight – known as Crew-1 – to the space station with the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, after a successful two-person test flight to the station earlier this year.

In the future, crews of four will be the norm for Crew Dragon missions. NASA has also entered into a contract with Boeing to transport Starliner crew capsules to the space station.

NASA has spent about $ 5 billion to help SpaceX and Boeing develop Crowdragon and Starliner systems, according to Phil McAllister, the agency’s commercial spaceflight manager. The companies have also invested their own money in the program through public-private partnerships with NASA.

Noguchi, who was a Boy Scouts when growing up in Japan, also has experience with different types of spacesuits.

He wore an orange NASA Launch and Entry suit during his shuttle flight, and then donned a Russian Sokol compression suit as he took off and landed on the Soyuz spacecraft. The SpaceX flight suit serves a similar purpose to the shuttle and the Sokol suits, providing a viable environment for the astronaut in the event that the Crew Dragon spacecraft depressurizes in flight.

Soichi Noguchi smiles and points upwards after landing on the Soyuz capsule on June 2, 2010. Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls

“It’s a little different,” said Noguchi of SpaceX’s compression suit. “The good thing about SpaceX is that it is simple. The bad thing is that it is simple … It’s very simple, so there are fewer points of failure, and it is very lightweight, which is cool.”

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“Because of simplicity, sometimes there are some shortcomings,” he told Spaceflight Now. “There are certain things that you really can’t do, like decompressing the suit is tough compared to a Soyuz and the shuttle. But the simplicity is aesthetically pleasing, lightweight, and overall a beautiful design. Love it.”

Noguchi praised SpaceX’s “speed and flexibility” as the Dragon crew trained at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles.

Noguchi said, “Everything was close by, which means that during training, if I had some deep questions, technical questions, the engineer who made those shows was on the other side of the floor, or the technician who actually built them was one floor down.” . “So we can actually go talk to the source of that information, and if we sometimes need to change offerings, we sometimes need to reposition the pump, and for good reason, they can adapt to those changes.

“It is not uncommon for them to change the display within a day, or in a few days, to change the devices completely,” Noguchi said. “This speed and flexibility really impressed me about SpaceX.”

Noguchi said he faced “inevitable” restrictions related to export control restrictions related to US international trade in the Arms Regulations, or ITAR.

“I’m a foreign citizen, so there are a lot of ITAR cases,” Noguchi said. This information and technical exchange agreement issues are always there. no way.”

Export control regulations limit access to satellite devices and technical drawings for foreign citizens.

“I try not to be considered a spy,” Noguchi said. “So getting a diagram or a drawing or a paper is really difficult. But, of course, SpaceX and my crew also help me understand and become a good operator.

“To operate a complex vehicle like the Crew Dragon safely, we need an adequate understanding of the system, and in that sense, SpaceX has been very cooperative in trying to dodge the bullet, to make sure we don’t violate these ITAR rules,” Noguchi said. .

Noguchi said he encountered similar headwinds while training for the Soyuz mission in Russia.

He said, “As for the Russian Soyuz, yes, we have been dealing constantly with these issues.” But with Russia, we have a long-term relationship, so we know how to dodge a bullet. We know the safe thing to do.

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“Compared to SpaceX, it is clearly something new, a new challenge for them,” said Noguchi. “Obviously, I’m their first student other than Americans, so they tried to make sure that we – SpaceX and me – were not violating the regulations, and at the same time they could train me as a valid operator. So that was a challenge.”

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is training to fly for the Crew-2 mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule next year.

“Fortunately, after me, we have other foreign astronauts in training, so we hope they have a smoother experience with SpaceX and Boeing in the same way,” said Noguchi.

“It’s clear that we’re cautious,” said Cathy Louders, head of NASA’s human spaceflight division. “When it flew before (on the space shuttle), it was on a system that we had. The other thing is that the insight in your craft also depends on what the crew members need to do.”

Hopkins and Glover began training to pilot the Crow Dragon spacecraft in 2018, while Noguchi Walker joined the crew earlier this year. Hopkins and Glover, commander and pilot, have been trained to take over manual control of the spacecraft if the autopilot system encounters problems during docking or terminating the space station.

Noguchi and Walker are closer to the occupants during the launch and landing of the Crew Dragon.

“I think we’ll just have to keep working through it,” said Lauders of training international astronauts. “While talking to the crew, we had the discussion … Are you getting the training you need to be able to do what you want to do?”

Lowers said NASA and JAXA managers are satisfied with the training of the Dragon crew, including Noguchi. A JAXA representative was given a “go” to advance the mission during the flight readiness review on Tuesday.

“We’ve been with JAXA for a while, and I think it was very clear in the way they were able to say ‘go’ on Tuesday,” said Lauders.

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