High-school teacher's space flight dream to come true

CHIBA, Japan - High school physics teacher Takanobu Yoneya, 32, who has long dreamed of becoming an astronaut, has won a seat on a suborbital space flight in a national contest.

The contest was organised by Axe, a men's cosmetics brand owned by Unilever.

Yoneya's desire to fly in space was spurred by two key influences. The first came when he was a primary school student and was moved by the star-filled sky above his grandfather's house in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture. Photos of space shuttles from the United States also drove his ambition.

After joining an aviation club when he was in university, Yoneya took to the sky in gliders. He went on to study astrophysics in graduate school. Since acquiring his pilot's license for light aircraft in the United States, he has returned once every few years to fly airplanes there.

Yoneya teaches at Chiba Municipal Chiba High School, his alma mater.

A campaign website was used for the primary selection of candidates from among 1,515 contestants. Yoneya asked students who had taken his supplementary summer class during the school break last year for support, saying, "Please vote for me if you felt my class was helpful."

After passing the primary selection with about 380 votes, he made it through the second-stage screening interview and the final selection phase in the United States. He is one of 25 successful would-be space travelers selected from all over the world.

The flight will be made in the second half of next year at the earliest. The plan is to fly into outer space on a suborbital space plane at an altitude of more than 100 kilometers and to experience zero gravity for about 10 minutes.

"I'm excited to see firsthand phenomena that happen in a gravity-free state," Yoneya said.

He said that after he returns from space, he would like to tell his students, "If you hold fast to your dream, it will surely come true someday."