Talk Summary by Dr Mamoru Mohri, the First Japanese Astronaut

Last Friday (Jul 13), our university (UTAR) hosted a talk by the first Japanese astronaut, Dr Mamoru Mohri. A veteran of two space flights, Dr. Mohri has logged over 459 hours in space. He flew aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour as a payload specialist on STS-47 in 1992, and as a mission specialist on STS-99 in 2000.

The talk lasted slightly over an hour, it was very interesting and I learned a thing or two.

He started the talk by telling how he got interested to become an astronaut. He was inspired by Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, that he asked his brother to take a picture of him with Gagarin in the television. In 1963, a total solar eclipse swept through his hometown, strengthen his interest in space. However, he had to put his dream as an astronaut aside because during that time only a Russian or an American can be an astronaut, and he was none of both. His dream became a reality when, at the age of 35 (if I remember that correctly), Japan was seeking for candidates to be an astronaut. He succeeded to become the 7 finalists sent to NASA for training.

He then showed us some videos of Earth taking from space, telling us his experiences how the Earth look like through his naked eyes. It was not the same as what they looked like in pictures.

He also showed the videos of him running experiments in space: blowing bubbles in water sphere, examining the properties of water (surface tension and wettability), colliding water sphere with metal sphere. The most interesting part of the talk is that before he showed us the outcome of the experiments, he’ll walk around and asked the audiences what result they expected, forcing everyone’s brain into high gear.

One of the most simple and yet very interesting experiment was investigating how our body changes in space. On the ground, Dr Mohri measured the size of his neck and thigh. So when he was in space, what do you think will happen to the size of the neck and thigh? Getting bigger or smaller? Frankly speaking, I didn’t get the right answer. My first instinct was it should get bigger, since in space the pressure is lower. However, I also know that the cabin will be pressurised to atmospheric pressure, if not, how were the astronauts going to live there? So my answer was there should be no changes, but my guts told me that it was not right.

So it turned out that my guts were right, there were some changes. The neck will get bigger while the thigh will get smaller. Why? Because our body is mainly made up of fluids. On Earth, gravity pulls the fluids to the lower part of the body, making the neck smaller and thigh bigger; in space, since there is no preferred direction, the fluids in our body will distribute evenly. Thus, in space, the neck will be slightly bigger and the thigh will be smaller.

(I tried to search these videos online to post them here, but unsuccessful… sorry…)

He wrapped up his talk by, again, taking us around the Earth as viewed from space, and finally Earthrise from the Moon taken by a Japanese spacecraft, Kaguya.

All in all, it was a great talk, and I think everyone enjoy themselves a lot.

Lastly, I can’t help not to mention that I was honoured to be the emcee of the event, introducing Dr Mohri to the audience and reading his biodata. This is not something that you are given the opportunity to do every day!

All photos courtesy of Lee Choon Kuan.


~ by thChieh on July 19, 2012.

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