'Golden' Expedition: 50th Commander Takes Charge of Space Station

Expedition 50 official crew portrait
Expedition 50 official crew portrait with (from left) Andrei Borisenko, Shane Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov, Thomas Pesquet, Peggy Whitson and Oleg Novitsky. (Image credit: NASA)

For the 50th time its nearly 16-year history, the International Space Station has a new commander.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough became the space station's 50th commander on Friday (Oct. 28) during a brief change of command ceremony. Kimbrough took over control from Anatoli Ivanishin, the outgoing commander of Expedition 49 and a cosmonaut with Russia's federal space agency, Roscosmos.

"It is really an honor and a privilege to take command of the International Space Station," said Kimbrough. [Watch: New Crew Arrives at International Space Station]

The ceremony continued a tradition started by the space station's first expedition crew, who took up residency aboard the orbiting outpost on Nov. 2, 2000. The first change of command, between Expedition 1 commander Bill Shepherd with NASA and Expedition 2 commander Yury Ushcev with Roscosmos, occurred four months later.

"Change of command is an ancient naval tradition — the passage of responsibility for mission, welfare of crew, and integrity of vessel from one individual to another," said Shepherd, who was a former Navy SEAL, on March 19, 2001. "May the good will, spirit and sense of mission we have enjoyed on board endure."

And endure it has. Since Shepherd and his two crewmates first staffed the space station, 230 expedition crew members from the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Japan, Belgium, Canada, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have called the complex home. The crews varied in size from two to six people for stays as short as four months to almost a year long.

"That is pretty significant, for it to be the 50th time we've sent a crew to the space station, kind of a really remote outpost ... so I hope we do it justice," Kimbrough said in a pre-flight interview with collectSPACE. "We just happen to be the crew."

The International Space Station as seen from Earth orbit. (Image credit: NASA)

Expedition 50, under Kimbrough's lead, will officially begin when Ivanishin and his two crewmates, Kate Rubins of NASA and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), depart the space station for Earth on Saturday (Oct. 29). They are set to land in Kazakhstan aboard Russia's Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft just a minute shy before midnight (EDT; 9:59 a.m. Oct. 30 local time). [Watch that landing live on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV]

Kimbrough, together with cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov, will comprise the Expedition 50 crew until Nov. 19, when, two days after their launch, cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Peggy Whitson of NASA and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA) will join the crew on the complex. The milestone mission will then continue until late February, when Kimbrough and his Soyuz MS-02 crewmates are scheduled to return home.

See all 50 International Space Station expedition patches at collectSPACE.com.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.