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Monday, 16th March 2009
In General Japan News,

Japanese astronaut blasts off on country's 'first long-term mission'

A Japanese astronaut is about to become the first person from the country to spend an extended period of time on the International Space Station.

Koichi Wakata was one of seven people onboard the space shuttle Discovery when it blasted off yesterday (Sunday March 15th), reports.

He will serve as a flight engineer on the station for the next three months, having gained experience with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).

Yukihide Hayashi, vice president of Jaxa, was quoted as saying: "This mission is a giant leap for the Japanese manned space activity programme. It will accumulate valuable knowledge and experience for the future Japanese space and aviation program."

Last night's launch is said to have gone smoothly, despite a fruit bat that fell asleep on the side of the shuttle hanging on throughout takeoff.

Meanwhile, Jaxa is working on robotic microsatellites that can clear debris in space, Russia Today reports.

Written by Andy Mackay