New Astronaut Crew Takes Shape Aboard Space Station

New Astronaut Crew Takes Shape Aboard Space Station
Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin (right), flight engineer Sunita Williams (center) and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, answer questions from SPACE.com during their crew change activities aboard the International Space Station in April 2007.
(Image: © NASA TV.)

A new astronaut crew is comingtogether aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Expedition 15 commanderFyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineers Oleg Kotov and Sunita Williams aretaking control of the ISS from two Expedition 14 astronauts bound for Earth.

"We're really just happy beinghere," Kotov, a cosmonaut making his first flight forRussia's Federal Space Agency, told SPACE.com this week during aspace-to-ground video link. "With all six months, we'll continue to do a goodjob."

Kotov and fellow cosmonaut Yurchikhinare replacing veteran NASA astronaut Michael "Mike LA" Lopez-Alegria, Expedition 14 commander, and Russian cosmonautMikhail "Misha" Tyurin, who are due to return toEarth on April 20 after their own seven-month space mission.

"Well, it's sort of bittersweet,"Williams, a NASA astronaut who joined the Expedition 14 crew midway through themission and is staying on for part of Expedition 15, told SPACE.com. "LAand Misha, they were sort of like my parents and thiswas my first flight, so they sort of led me along the way and taught me how tolive and work in space."

The joint crew celebratedRussia's Cosmonautics Day Thursday to honor the 46th anniversaryof cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic April 12, 1961 launch that ushered in theera of human spaceflight.

Yurchikhin said the Expedition 15 mission didnot begin April 7 when he launched into orbit aboard Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraftwith Kotov and Americanspace tourist and billionaire Charles Simonyi. Simonyi is paying between$20 million and $25 million for a 13-day spaceflight to the ISS under anagreement between the Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based firm SpaceAdventures.

"Expedition 15 began with Suni's launch, not with our launch," Yurchikhinsaid of Williams' December 2006 launch to the ISS aboard NASA's space shuttleDiscovery.

The sort of orbitaldance between NASA shuttle flights and Soyuz launches required for ISSExpedition crew swaps left it uncertain that Williams would be aboard the ISSwhen Yurchikhin and Kotovarrived. Her replacement, U.S.astronaut Clayton Anderson, is slated to arrive at the ISS during NASA'splanned STS-118 shuttle mission and himself will be relieved by fellow spaceflyer Daniel Tani on asubsequent orbiter flight.

"There were times that we all, Ithink, doubted that we might not get up here at the same time," Williams said."We really hoped that it would happen and the other day, when the hatchopened and I saw their smiling faces, it was great to have it all become areality."

The Expedition 15 mission includesmultiple Russian and U.S.spacewalks, as well as several challenging ISS construction activities withvisiting shuttle astronauts. New solar arrays, massive girder segments and theHarmony connecting node are slated to arrive at the ISS aboard visitingshuttles during the spaceflight.

"We hope that we'll be able toaccomplish all of our tasks successfully," said Williams, adding that she hopesto spend some more time looking out the station's windows since her return toEarth has been delayed until Anderson arrives due to launchdelays with NASA's next shuttle flight.

Meanwhile, with Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin set to return to Earth alongsideSimonyi, Williams said she is welcoming Yurchikhin and Kotov into her orbitalfamily.

"I think we're going to have awonderful time here together," she added.

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