Everything from the Environment to Space

The former Soviet Union, a country that achieved the world’s first satellite launch and manned flight,

was undeniably the country of enigma to the western world at that time.

Although the availability of information has improved a lot since then,

much of Russian space program is still unknown. We had the pleasure of interviewing Kenji Ota,

a translator who is well versed in space information from the former Soviet Union and Russia.

Interviewer: Mr. Ota, tell us how you became involved with Russia?

Ota: I was hired at a company called TORAY in 1963. I became involved in trade and was stationed in Moscow and other places, which was my first involvement with Russia. Actually, I had studied Russian language prior to that, because my brother had suggested me to do so if I was to go to school. The former Soviet Union had just begun launching satellites and they looked very advanced in technology.

Interviewer: Did you have an interest in Russian technology from the outset?

Ota: Not particularly, but when I was exposed to many news reports in Russia, the news given in Japan seemed inadequate in comparison. So, I decided to gather as much information as I can on the former Soviet Union and Russian technology for my own interest.

Interviewer: You have a book titled The Manned Space Station MIR (Yomiuri Shimbun).

Ota: Yes, that was a book I wrote in 1995, but a major factor in the background to write it was actually the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in 1986. At that time, the West knew nothing about that region. Ironically the accident made it necessary for us to gather information. There were many inquiries to me, because I cover the fields of nuclear energy and the environment and purport to be somewhat of a science journalist, (laughs).

Interviewer: From your perspective, what gives Russia’s space technology its distinctiveness?

Ota: Well, it has a long history, beginning from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Due to the scarcity of information, one may be led to believe that Russia is inferior to America and other countries, but that by no means is true. While Japan has recently been experiencing failed rocket launches, Russia went through such a period a long time ago. Russia was even the first to offer civilian space tour, taking Dennis Tito into space. When Russia sets its mind to doing something, I think it does it well. It is my opinion that Japan would be wise to build a stronger relationship of cooperation with Russia.

Interviewer: What is the latest information you can tell us about Russia’s space program.

Ota: You have probably heard of their rocket Energia. They have determined that the rocket is too big and are currently developing a slightly smaller version called Energia M. They are also apparently developing a successor to the Proton launch vehicle, called Angara. This will be launched from Svobodnyi in Russia.

Editor’s Note
After retiring, Mr. Ota continued to remain active in introducing Russia’s technology. Although he bears the title "translator," it seems more appropriate to call him a science journalist with a wide range of duties, as he said in the interview. He has been providing commentary for the program Uchu e no chosen on communication satellite broadcast channel 999 since April and is currently writing a book about Lake Baikal. It seems his sphere of activity continues to expand.