Photo/IllutrationAstronaut Norishige Kanai, left, with his fellow crew members on the Russian Soyuz at a news conference in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Dec. 16 (Ryoma Komiyama)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan--Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai lifted off on his maiden flight on Dec. 17 for a six-month mission at the International Space Station (ISS) where he will study the effects of weightlessness in space.

At a news conference the previous day, the 41-year-old said he is looking forward to the launch as a new beginning for the crew and an extended stay allowing for new experiences in space.

“We have endured a long training period together,” Kanai said, referring to two other astronauts who will be aboard the Russian Soyuz for the mission at the ISS. “I take tomorrow as another day I will spend with them again, rather than a special day.”

During his stay at the ISS through June 3, he will conduct a number of experiments, including one to examine the impact of zero gravity on humans.

Kanai said he welcomed the extension of the mission at the ISS from the initially planned four months.

“I am happy about being able to experience many more things before my return,” he said.

Kanai will be the seventh Japanese astronaut to be stationed on the ISS for an extended period.

Kanai, who announced his engagement to a woman who works at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in August, said he plans to register their marriage after he returns from space.

The Tokyo native worked as a doctor in Japan’s Self-Defense Forces after graduating from the National Defense Medical College.

In 2009, he was selected as a candidate for a space mission by JAXA.