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Japanese space tourist will join human health research effort in orbit

Billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa (left), cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin (center) and video producer Yozo Hirano (right) are scheduled to launch toward the International Space Station on Dec. 8, 2021. Hirano will participate in health-related research during and after the mission.
Billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa (left), cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin (center) and video producer Yozo Hirano (right) are scheduled to launch toward the International Space Station on Dec. 8, 2021. Hirano will participate in health-related research during and after the mission. (Image credit: CPK/Roscosmos)

A space tourist plans to join a human health research effort during his 12 days in orbit.

The spaceflyer, Japanese video producer Yozo Hirano, announced the collaboration in a late November press release issued by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Hirano's mission on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to launch at 2:38 a.m. EST (0738 GMT or 1:38 p.m. local time) on Wednesday (Dec. 8) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. On board will also be Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency.

“I am excited to participate in this research as it will help scientists reduce health risks for future space explorers,” Hirano said in the release (opens in new tab), which said the research will be especially valuable as it will collect information from a non-professional astronaut. 

Photos: The first space tourists

Only a handful of space tourists have flown so far, but that number is expected to increase quickly through private missions to the space station, along with suborbital flights launched by Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and other companies.

An international team of researchers will gather a variety of data about Hirano before, during and after the upcoming ISS mission, which was organized by Virginia company Space Adventures. The scientists pledged to release anonymized data about the mission, along with the rest of the health information in the institute's database, through an open data repository. The goal of sharing this research will be to "to reduce health and performance risks that space explorers face," TRISH representatives stated in the press release.

This is the research that TRISH plans to conduct with Hirano, according to language from the institute provided in the release:

  • "Collection of research-grade electrocardiogram (ECG) activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm and blood oxygen saturation.
  • "Performance of a series of tests in the cognition testing battery designed to assess changes in behavioral and cognitive performance. The cognitive test battery is used by astronauts in NASA-funded behavioral health research studies and is administered with the Joggle Research app (Pulsar Informatics Inc.) on an Apple iPad.
  • "Use of balance and perception tests pre-flight and post-flight to measure sensorimotor adaptation during changes of gravity. These tests are currently performed by U.S. astronauts before and after spaceflight.
  • "Use of PlenOptika’s portable auto-refractor QuickSee device pre-flight and post-flight to collect relevant vision data pertaining to sight, yielding a high-value data set for future vision research in space."

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.