Japanese journalist chosen for space flight

By GERALD NADLER   |   Nov. 12, 1990
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MOSCOW -- A veteran Japanese TV correspondent -- a one-time chain smoker who kicked a four-pack-a-day habit -- was chosen Monday to be the first newsman to fly in space with Soviet cosmonauts.

Toyohiro Akiyama, 48, a former Washington bureau chief for the Tokyo Broadcasting System, was selected Monday to go on a Dec. 2 mission to the Soviet space station Mir on a flight that will cost the Japanese network $10 million.

He was picked over Rioko Kikuchi, 25, TBS's first camerawoman. A sterling linguist who knows Chinese and has learned Russian, Kikuchi will be the backup for the flight.

A seasoned pair of Soviet cosmonauts will accompany Akiyama on a flight to the Mir station -- Musa Manarov, 39, who spent an entire year aboard the Mir, and Col. Viktor Afanasyev, a rookie cosmonaut but a veteran pilot who has mastered 40 different types of aircraft.

Akiyama's selection was announced at Star City, where the Japanese candidates had been training since October, including intensive turotiring in Russian.

Once a chain smoker who by his own admission puffed his way through four packs a day and also enjoyed a drink, Akiyama said his goal to fly in space forced him to remake his life from the time he applied two years ago when he was 46.

'If you try hard you can stop drinking and smoking and retrain your life,' said Akiyama. 'If you try very hard you can start again.'

He also joshed that he would now be the standard bearer of Japanese men his age during the flight. When he gets to the Mir he will join Soviet cosmonauts Gennady Strekalov, who turned 50 on Oct. 28, and Strekalov's roommate, Gennady Manakov, who is 40.

Akiyama is the chief editor of the TBS foreign news division, while Kikuchi is a TBS fledgling. A graduate of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, she had hoped to be the station's Beijing correspondent but ended up training as a cosmonaut. She worked briefly in Beijing and covered the Seoul Olympics.

Akiyama and Kikuchi were selected from a total of 163 employes from TBS and its affiliated companies who voluteered to be the first cosmo- reporter.

Akiyama will be the first journalist to ever go into space, and the awarding of that distinction to a foreigner set off such howls of hurt by Soviet newsmen that a future flight has been reserved for a Soviet journalist. Eight candidates are now competing.

The flight, for which Tokyo Broadcasting System is paying $10 million, will bring at least 150 representatives and newsmen from the television station to Baikonur for the launch Dec. 2. A total of 100 Soviet television and radio correspondents are also expected to cover the lift-off.

'It will almost be like summit conference,' said Toshio Koike, the Moscow bureau chief of Tokyo Broadcasting System, who was briefly a strong candidate for the historic flight.

'I wanted to fly just as the others did,' he said Monday, 'but my teeth disqualified me.'

For the Soviets, the mission is a first venture in earning money for their space expertise after years of training and flying with astronauts from Eastern bloc or 'friendly' countries for propaganda purposes.

In line for future pay-as-you-go flights are Austria and Germany while a French astronaut, Michel Tognini, will also fly in what will be the third mission for the French. A flight with a British astronaut is now in doubt because of sponsoring problems.

Since 1978, astronauts from 13 nations have flown with the Soviets, including pilots from all the Eastern European nations plus Syria, India, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and France twice.

Akiyama will stay for about a week aboard the Mir and then return with the present crew aboard the station, Strekalov and Manakov. The new crew of Manarov and Afanasyev will remain aboard for about six months until they are replaced.

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