After successfully testing his “Pencil Rocket” in 1955, Dr. Rocket, as Hideo Itokawa came to be known, continued to develop the Pencil as a platform for learning more about rocketry. At the Itokawa Laboratory on the Chiba campus of the Institute of Industrial Science, Itokawa and colleagues tested later versions of the Pencil including one measuring 300 millimeters (11.8 inches) long and another with two stages including a booster. Grappling with unreliable electronics and many failures, the team was nonetheless getting flights of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) and gradually accumulating knowledge and experience. The Pencil was eventually replaced by larger, more powerful models, including the Baby rocket and the Kappa rocket, which soared ever higher above the Earth.
The next time an H-IIB rocket launches from the island of Tanegashima in southern Japan, it will carry a cargo craft bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, weighs 10,500 kilograms (11.6 tons) and can carry about 6,000 kilograms (6.6 tons) worth of supplies for the astronauts aboard the ISS. This massive, cutting-edge spaceship plays an important role in the life of the orbiting station, but its development can be traced back to one man and one little object.