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Japanese astronaut Noguchi enthusiastic for 2019 mission to ISS

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi speaks to reporters in Tokyo on Nov. 9, 2017, two days after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced his selection for a mission to the International Space Station in 2019. (Mainichi)

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi told a Nov. 9 news conference that he is enthusiastic about his scheduled return to the International Space Station (ISS).

Noguchi's selection was announced by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Nov. 7. He will be on the station for about six months starting in late 2019.

Noguchi will be 54 years old at the time of the scheduled launch, making him the oldest active duty Japanese astronaut, and will turn 55 during his stay on the ISS. "I had never imagined being 55 and still on active duty. I hope to give people in their 50s something to dream about," he said.

Noguchi took his inaugural trip to space in 2005 on the space shuttle Discovery, the first shuttle mission after flights were suspended following the Columbia's disintegration on reentry in 2003. In his second flight in 2009, he went to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft -- a first for a Japanese astronaut. For his 2019 trip, he may board a new spacecraft now being developed by a U.S. firm.

Noguchi said, "I'm really lucky as an astronaut, as it seems that I'm supposed to take charge of new experiments. The latest spacecraft has hidden potential to expand the aerospace sector, and marks a great turning-point in human space exploration. I think it's worthwhile."

Regarding the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Noguchi told reporters, "Part of my job motivation has been to stay on active duty until the games come to Japan. I want to share the excitement for the event with the Japanese people as a representative of Japan on an astronomical stage. I hope to perform the torch relay in outer space and carry it back to Earth."

Fellow Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai, 40, is scheduled to visit ISS for his first time in the coming month. He is set to perform duties including space-based medical experiments focused on human health and life-extension.

Noguchi said, "I'm going to be on the ISS at the age of 55. So I'm very interested in the theme of Mr. Kanai's research. I'll do my best to follow the young Kanai."

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