Dr. Chiaki Mukai was already an established cardiac surgeon when selected as one of three Japanese Payload Specialist candidates for the First Material Processing Test using the Spacelab-J a joint NASA and National Space Development Agency of Japan mission.
In pursuit of becoming a medical doctor Mukai earned a doctorate in medicine in 1977, became a board certified cardiovascular surgeon a year later, and added a doctorate in physiology in 1988. As a surgeon she worked in hospitals as part of the medical staff in cardiovascular and emergency surgery. In 1983 she was promoted to Chief Resident in Cardiovascular Surgery at the Keio University Hospital and later to assistant professor at the university.
Selected in 1985 as an astronaut candidate, it was 1994 before she would become Japan’s first woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Serving as a Payload Specialist she participated in the research aboard the second International Microgravity Laboratory flight. There were 82 investigations of Space Life Science and Microgravity Science as well as a focus on medical experiments related to the cardiovascular system, autonomic nerve system, and bone and muscle metabolism. Mukai would log almost 354 hours in space during this mission.
Four years later on board the Shuttle Discovery Mukai would spend another 213 hours in orbit, becoming the first Japanese citizen to travel to space a second time.
In 2004 she became a visiting professor at the International Space University bringing with her specialized knowledge of space medicine and human space exploration health management. Leaving ISU three years later she accepted a position as the Director of the Space Biomedical Research Office part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and was promoted to Senior Advisor to the JAXA executive director in 2011 and Director of JAXA Center for Applied Space Medicine and Human Research a year later. Assuming the position of JAXA Technical Counselor in 2015 she also became Vice President of the Tokyo University of Science.
Written by Angela Goad