Japanese woman astronaut goes to space in style

Afp April 10, 2010

TOKYO: The latest creation by Japanese fashion designer Tae Ashida is truly out of this world -- a blue cardigan and short pants outfit she made for her country's astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.

The US space shuttle Discovery blasted off on Monday with Yamazaki and two other female crew on board, bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a historic mission that put more women in orbit than ever before. Ahead of her departure, Yamazaki, 39, asked Ashida, daughter of Japanese fashion guru Jun Ashida, to design her work clothes for the 13-day space mission and she came up with a slim knit cardigan in light blue with navy blue shorts.

"As a female designer, I chose a design and colour with a sense of grace ... so that she can feel at ease as she carries out a tough mission in a male-dominated, bleak atmosphere," Ashida said on Wednesday. "It's like a dream come true to see my clothes worn in space," said Ashida. "I'm looking forward to seeing her wear my design."

Yamazaki also brought a miniature version of the traditional Japanese harp, known as a koto, to the station to play an ensemble with her countryman Soichi Noguchi, who has carried his Japanese flute to the station. Yamazaki asked a Japanese musical instrument factory to make a miniature version of the koto, which usually measures about 1.8 metres (six feet), to meet the size limit for her space shuttle cabin luggage.

"The sound is quite different from that of an authentic one, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing her play the koto in space," said instrument maker Kenzo Ogawa, who produced the mini harp. Japan's astronauts have shown a penchant for space entertainment in the past.

Last year Koichi Wakata performed a series of zero-gravity challenges, including testing a "flying carpet", folding laundry and using eye drops in the ISS, videos which were posted online by the Japanese space agency.