World News

Astronaut set to become Japan's first mum in space

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese astronaut and mother of one has been picked as a crew member of the space shuttle Atlantis, Japan’s space agency said Tuesday, making her the country’s first mum to go into space.

Naoko Yamazaki, mother of a 6-year-old girl, will board Atlantis, set to lift off sometime after February 2010 for a two-week flight, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

“There have been times when it was hard to balance work and child rearing,” Yamazaki, 37, told a news conference.

“My daughter is starting to understand about space and space shuttles... She told me ‘Now, you’ll be the one to ride that, mummy. I’m very happy’.”

Japanese women are still under-represented in many fields, including business and politics, and only 30 percent of women with children under age 6 are working -- about half the equivalent rate in the United States.

Yamazaki will be the second Japanese woman to go into space after Chiaki Mukai, who went in 1994 and 1998, and Japan’s seventh astronaut over all, a spokeswoman for JAXA said.

In this mission, the Atlantis will carry materials for the International Space Station, the spokeswoman said.

The space station is a $100 billion project involving 15 nations including the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada, and has been under construction for about a decade.

Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Hugh Lawson