Experimenting on board Kibo

Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, 40, carrying out the Hillgrove Secondary 'Flying Paper Plane' experiment on board the Kibo module at the International Space Station on Sept 14.
Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, 40, carrying out the Hillgrove Secondary 'Flying Paper Plane' experiment on board the Kibo module at the International Space Station on Sept 14. PHOTO: JAPAN AEROSPACE EXPLORATION AGENCY

TSUKUBA • Japan's space agency has been conducting experiments on board its Kibo module, the largest on the International Space Station (ISS), since its launch in 2008.

They include experiments in biology, medicine and physics, said Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, 40, who was launched into space in July and is scheduled to return to earth next month.

His remarks were beamed from the space station after he conducted five student experiments under the Asian Try Zero-G programme last week, which featured a Singapore team for the first time.

Among the experiments was one on surface tension.

"On the ground, we cannot see the exact surface tension as clearly as we can in space, because of the gravity on earth," Mr Onishi said, explaining how liquids tend to assume a spherical shape in space.

Japan has been investigating the effect of surface tension on liquid flow - a phenomenon known as the Marangoni convection, which can support micro- fluid handling techniques such as DNA examination.

Mr Onishi said: "We want to use the new knowledge to develop new technology, or advance technologies that we already have on the ground."

Other experiments on board Kibo include growing high-quality protein crystals - possible because there is no convection in space - to observe the shape of the structure.

There is also an ongoing mouse habitat experiment to study the effects of long- term exposure to a micro- gravity environment, Mr Kazuyuki Tasaki, director of the department that oversees Kibo, told The Straits Times.

Mr Onishi, a former pilot and Japan's 11th astronaut in space, said there is a lot of room for bilateral and multilateral cooperation on Kibo, which means "hope" in Japanese. In April, Japan teamed up with the Philippines to deploy the latter's first small satellite.

"We are always very happy to work together with other Asian countries," Mr Onishi said. "I think the ISS is one of the best models of international cooperation.

"I promise we will take back some good scientific results to the ground that will be beneficial to the people on earth."

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Experimenting on board Kibo'. Print Edition | Subscribe