Space flight surgeon to run for Chiba


MATSUMOTO Akiko, who is a doctor, grew up in Narashino City and has devoted herself to treating people with various types of diseases and impairments. She currently works for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as a dedicated physician for astronauts including YUI Kimiya, YAMAZAKI Naoko, who is also from Chiba Prefecture, and WAKATA Koichi, who was the first Japanese captain at the International Space Station.

Matsumoto leads the medical management of the Japanese astronauts in space and also works with others who are involved in space development in various organisations in many different countries.

She hopes to make a contribution to Chiba by running as a torchbearer for Tokyo 2020. She wants to use her experience of working in the field of international cooperation, together with her language skills, to tell people about the charms of Chiba, which is a city rich in tradition and history.

How did you come to work for JAXA as a doctor?

I discovered the flight surgeon job whilst I was involved in research and medical treatments at universities and medical institutions. 'What happens to the human body in space?' was the simple question that piqued my interest in space medicine.

What are the challenges of managing the health of astronauts?

With ordinary medical practice, you mainly deal with patients and their families. But if you are involved in manned space missions such as in NASA and Russia, etc., you need to manage the astronauts' health within the framework of international cooperation, while liaising and cooperating with other personnel involved in space projects. I felt it was a great and extraordinary project.

What are the difficulties and benefits of being a flight surgeon?

As a mother and flight surgeon, it was sometimes difficult to play both roles, especially when I had to go on long business trips overseas with children. But I was so glad to be able to support astronauts in space. They all managed to stay healthy and came back to earth without any trouble.

What are some of the attractions of Narashino, your hometown?

Although it is a small city in terms of geographical area, it is renowned for its good balance of music and sports. Primary, middle and high schools have won awards in brass band competitions and one of the high schools has even won first place at the annual high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium. The city has produced many athletes, including some Olympic medallists. Every evening you get to listen to a lovely little Narashino song.

Why do you want to run as a torchbearer?

Whilst I was providing medical support for astronauts on space missions, I came to appreciate Earth - especially Japan - where the scenery changes beautifully throughout the different seasons. I would like to run with gratitude in my heart for the people who raised and supported me, my hometown and Japan, and also as a citizen of the Earth.