The two men carrying out the tenth expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) have officially taken control of the orbiting facility.
ISS Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov are settling in to what will be the first long spaceflight for both the veteran space flyers careers, six months. The pair took control of the station from its previous crew, Expedition 9's Gennady Padalka and Michael Fincke, who departed on Oct. 23.
"We'll do our best to leave [the ISS] in better condition than you've given it to us," Chiao told the Expedition 9 crew and visiting Russian Space Forces cosmonaut Yuri Shargin during a change of command ceremony.
Both Chiao and Sharipov have looked forward to their spaceflight and the unique experiences the mission offers.
A few firsts
While neither of the Expedition 10 crewmembers are space rookies -- both have flown aboard NASA space shuttles, three times for Chiao -- the mission marks the first time either spacefarer has spent an extended stretch in Earth orbit or flown in Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.
"A long-duration spaceflight is more like a marathon," Chiao said before launching up toward the ISS on Oct. 13. "Rather than the sprint of two weeks during a shuttle flight, trying to get everything done."
During their stay aboard the ISS, Chiao and Sharipov will conduct two spacewalks in Russian-built Orlan spacewalks, reposition their Soyuz TMA-5 spacecraft to the station's Zarya control module and perform ISS maintenance and science research. They are expected to be the last two-person crew to the station since NASA's space shuttle fleet is anticipated to return to flight during Expedition 11, which would allow the ISS to return to its typical three-person crews.
"I want to work very hard in this mission," Sharipov told SPACE.com before launch, adding that he has served as a back-up crewmember five times, three times for Mir mission and twice for the ISS.
Sharipov began his work even before reaching the ISS, manually docking the Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 10 to the station when the capsule's automated system malfunctioned.
The moon and space cooking
Chiao said spaceflight has been in his heart since his childhood, when at age 8 he watched Apollo astronauts reach the moon.
"I love flying, even when we go on vacation," said Chiao, who owns his own airplane. Married over a year to his wife Karen, Chiao said his wedding ring is among the treasured items he took with him to the ISS.
Sharipov, meanwhile, takes comfort in the photographs of friends and family he packed into the 3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) of personal cargo allowed with him into space. His chief concern, he said, is the preservation of his culinary skills.
"Hopefully, I won't forget how to cook in the six months I'll be onboard the space station," Sharipov said. "I like to eat and cook and share my passions with my friends."
The Expedition 10 crew did not arrive at the space station unaccompanied. Visiting ISS cosmonaut Shargin also made the two-day spaceflight, spending eight days aboard the station performing science experiments.
Qualifying as a test cosmonaut in 1998, Shargin hails from Englestown, Saratov in Russia and serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Air Force. He made his first flight into space with the Expedition 10 crew.
During his brief week aboard the ISS, Shargin told reporters his schedule was so filled with scientific research that he would most likely really look back at his experience after landing.
"I think this will be very beneficial for our scientific understanding and for humanity overall," Shargin said of his mission.