Astronaut Koichi Wakata Returns to Earth

Astronaut Koichi Wakata returned to Earth aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft after serving as the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station.

Wakata wrapped up his six-month mission on Wednesday, landing safely in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz re-entry capsule along with with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and US astronaut Rick Mastracchio.

Wakata was on his fourth trip to space when he was handed the ISS commander post, becoming the first Asian to head the station. He served as ISS commander for 66 days, where he worked with five other astronauts from the US and Russia. US astronaut Steven Swanson will take over as commander.

“I completed my duties thanks to great teamwork with astronauts from other countries,” Koichi Wakata said after his health condition was checked.

After arriving at the ISS in November last year, Koichi Wakata carried out various scientific experiments and released an ultra-compact satellite into space. He also captured Comet ISON with a 4K high-resolution camera, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

Wakata spent 188 days on his fourth mission, surpassing the record for a single trip by a Japanese astronaut, previously held by Satoshi Furukawa with 167 days. His overall space experience lasted 348 days across four trips, also the longest for a Japanese.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga praised Wakata’s achievements on the ISS.

“We Japanese are very proud of him,” Suga said at a press conference. “He exerted Japanese-style leadership and completed the mission honorably.”

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: “Expedition 39 Soyuz TMA-11M Landing (201405140008HQ)” by NASA HQ PHOTO/Flickr

Koichi Wakata, ISS commander, International Space Station

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