Two veteranastronauts and Malaysia's first spaceflyer are settling into orbital life asthey near the midpoint of a crew swap aboard the International Space Station(ISS). ?
ISS Expedition16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko are takingcharge of the station from its previous crew while visiting Malaysian astronautSheikh Muszaphar Shukor performs science experiments for his government's spaceagency. The three spaceflyers arrivedat the ISS on Friday and are in the midst of a nine-day exchange with thestation's current Expedition 15 crew.
"Itfelt very much like coming home again," Whitson, the space station's firstfemale commander and a veteran ISS astronaut, told reporters Monday ofarriving at the ISS.
Whitsonand Malenchenko have both served on past long-duration ISS crews andlaunched toward the space station with Shukor on Oct. 10. They are replacingExpedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, who arewrapping up their own six-month mission and are set to land with Shukor on Oct.21 while their third crewmate -- NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson -- stays on aspart of the station's new crew.
"I'm alittle concerned about this whip thing that Peggy got in Russia," Andersonjokingly told the Associated Press today in an interview on NASA TV. "I'm kind of waiting forher to kind of take it out here and kind of put me in line."
Well-wisherspresented Whitson with a traditionalKazakh whip in good humor to keep her male crewmates in check before she launchedspaceward from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport in Central Asia.
While thejoint crews of Expedition 15 and Expedition 16 work on their handover, Shukortackled his science experiments and took some time to peer at his home planetfrom space.
"Thefirst time I looked out the window and I saw the view of Earth it was such anamazing feeling," he told reporters. "It was so spectacular that heartstopped beating and my eyes stopped blinking."
Shukor isflying to the ISS as part of a commercial deal between Russian and hisMalaysian government for Russian-built military aircraft. He said that while hehas taken some lessons from the NASA and Russian astronauts on how best to movein the weightlessness of space, but the overall transition to life withoutgravity has gone well.
"I'mactually quite surprised how I responded to space," Shukor said, creditinghis Russian instructors and a spinning chair training device for preparing himfor spaceflight. "I was expecting much worse."
Meanwhile, theExpedition 16 crew is looking ahead to what promises to be a busy first half oftheir orbital mission.
Less thanone week after Shukor and the Expedition 15 crew depart the ISS, NASA's spaceshuttle Discovery is due to launch its STS-120 mission to deliver a vitalconnecting node to the orbital laboratory. The Expedition 16 crew also plans tostage two spacewalks and host a planned December shuttle flight bearing aEuropean-built laboratory, a well as a Russian cargo ship, before the year isout.
"It'sgoing to be very exciting, very challenging," Whitson said. "Andwe're really excited about getting started."
- VIDEO: NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson
- Looking Back on 50 Years of Spaceflight
- Complete ISS Expedition Coverage