"I want to see what it's like to go into space." The Space Mission Simulator at the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Chofu Aerospace Center lets people experience a simulation of that dream.
When you enter the cockpit of the "space plane," which takes off for space from a runway like an airplane, there is a screen ahead and a monitor, and a control stick in front of the pilot's seat. Computer graphics of an airport are projected onto the screen, and the monitor displays gauges that show engine conditions and the attitude of the fuselage.
"Three. Two. One ..."
Middle school students visiting on a school trip count down seconds to the launch along with the on-screen display. A cheer goes up as the craft soars into the sky. You can also enjoy docking with a space station, landing on the surface of the moon, re-entry into the atmosphere and landing at the airport.
Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun Students look at an actual small experimental supersonic plane. "Landing was hard, but I had a lot of fun," says Takafumi Tsurumaki, 14, a student at Tachikawa Middle School in Shonai, Yamagata Prefecture, who got to handle the control stick.
JAXA also has research and exhibition facilities in the cities of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, but here, the exhibitions are focused on aviation research. In one corner, where you can directly experience the lift force that occurs when an airplane's wings catch the wind, a small wing inside the installation goes up and down based on the strength of the lift. When the rear of the wing is lowered by turning a knob, you can confirm that the wing rises as the lift becomes stronger.
You can also see real experimental planes. One small 11.5-meter-long experimental supersonic plane incorporates technologies such as natural laminar flow wings to reduce the frictional drag that occurs on the surface of the wing. Outside, the nose section of a YS-11, the first passenger plane produced in Japan after World War II, is also on display.
Takahiro Namiki, 41, head of the centre's promotional department in charge of public relations, said, "We want people to learn directly that aviation technology is safe and eco-friendly, and enriches our lives."
The JAXA Chofu Aerospace Center opened in April 2001 as an exhibition hall for the National Aerospace Laboratory, one of the predecessor organisations of JAXA. Exhibits include a real turbofan engine and a mock-up of the Asuka low-noise STOL experimental plane. Moon-landing technology, equipment for aviation biofuel research and other items will be shown on April 19. The JSS2 supercomputer will also be on display.
Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays and during the year-end and New Year holiday period. Admission is free.