BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- Before climbing aboard a Soyuz spacecraft for his mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi met with his family including his young daughter, who gave him a stuffed bear to take with him.
It was some time past 4 a.m. on July 7, before the sun had risen, that Onishi, 40, had his final meeting with his wife, 38, daughter, 6, and son, 1, before setting out for his four-month stay aboard the ISS.
To prevent any chance of the astronauts getting ill, the final meeting was held with a glass barrier between Onishi and his family. When Onishi's daughter asked him, "Papa, are you looking forward to going to space?" He smiled and replied through his microphone that he was. His wife asked after his health, and Onishi's friends and officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) were also present.
The stuffed bear is of the "Rilakkuma" character, a favorite of Onishi's daughter. It was brought on board the spacecraft to be hung in front of the pilot's seats, where it would function as a weightlessness sensor by floating when the vessel escaped Earth's gravity. It is also a token from his family, a symbol of their hope that his flights will be safe and that he will fulfill his duties, including his important role as assistant to 47-year-old Soyuz commander Anatoly Ivanishin, perfectly.