For New Station Commander, Spaceflight is All in the Family

New Station Crew, Korean Astronaut Rocket Into Space
South Korea's first astronaut and the Expedition 17 crew launches aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 8, 2008 on a mission to the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Veterancosmonaut Alexander Volkov was in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, at the site where he leftthe Earth three times to live on a space station. Though his return to theBaikonur Cosmodrome was for a launch and the mission's crew roster included a'Volkov', his role today was as a spectator and proud father.

His son, Sergei Volkov, was making his firstlaunch to space.

The first second-generation space explorer, the younger Volkov, 35, commandedthe Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft that was launched at 7:16 a.m. EDT (1116 GMT) fromthe same pad used by his father for his three missions between 1985 and 1991.

Now in space, Sergei Volkov is set to become the next commander of theInternational Space Station, relieving Peggy Whitson, the outpost's firstfemale leader.

Volkov, who launched with fellow Expedition 17 crewmate Oleg Kononenko andSo-yeon Yi, the first Korean citizen to fly in space, did not have the sameopportunity as his father did Tuesday to watch his family member depart theplanet. Up until recently, relatives were not allowed at the Russian launchbase.

"I was able [to watch] just the news," Volkov shared with abouthis memories at age 12 of watching his father's first flight. "As a son,of course, I was worried how this launch was going to be," he said, addingthat he was also happy that his father had reached his goal.

Twenty years later, the elder Volkov took his son aside to share his personaladvice for his son's trip. "It happened that he started giving me advicemaybe two weeks ago," Volkov recounted during a January interview. "Ivisited him and he said, 'You know, I have to tell you something.' He sharedwith me some information about what he didn't expect during his first flightand what actually happened."

Space siblings and spouses

The Volkovs are the first parent and child pair to both fly in space, but theyaren't the first blood relatives to share that distinction.

Brothers Mark and Scott Kelly are more than just the first immediate familymembers to both be astronauts but also the first identical twins to do so.

Selected by NASA in 1996 as pilots, both have made two space shuttle flights.Mark will command his third when he launches on a mission to the space station targetedto begin at the end of May (where he'll meet up with Sergei Volkov on orbit).

Beyond blood relatives, the first husband and wife to fly in space, though onseparate missions and before they were betrothed to each other, were fifth inspace Andriyan Nikolayev and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to orbit theEarth. They were married in November 1963, a year after Nikolayev made hisfirst mission and 5 months after Tereshkova returned from space. They gavebirth to a daughter before divorcing in 1982.

The first married couple to launch to space together was U.S. astronauts MarkLee and Jan Davis, who met while training for STS-47, his second and her firstmission. As the two were already in training when they decided to be married,NASA made an exception to its normal policies that would preclude such apairing. They were married in 1990, launched in 1992 and separated in 1999.

Other former married couples include Steve Hawley and Sally Ride, the firstU.S. female in space, and Ron Sega and Bonnie Dunbar. Space shuttle veteransRobert "Hoot" Gibson and Rhea Seddon remain a couple, as are SteveNagel and Linda Godwin, Peter "Jeff" Wisoff and Tammy Jernigan, andAndy Thomas and Shannon Walker.

Former European Space Agency astronauts Jean-Pierre Haigner? and Claudie Andr?-Deshaysare married, as are Russians Valeri Ryumin and Yelena Kondakova.

NASA astronaut Bob Behnken carried wedding rings withhim on the most recent shuttle mission, which he and his fiancee Megan McArthurwill wear when they are married. McArthur is scheduled to launch on her firstmission, the last to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, later this year.

Orbiting offspring

Rather than wedding rings, Volkov considered packing a different type ofjewelry to represent his connection with his father.

"He presented me his watches that he wore during his spaceflight. Maybe Iwill fly them as they are certified for space," he told collectSPACE.

By happenstance, Volkov will meet the second, second generation space-explorerand the first offspring of a U.S. astronaut late during his stay on thestation. Self-funded spaceflight participant Richard Garriott, the son ofSkylab and space shuttle veteran Owen Garriott, is expectedto launch in October. He and Volkov will then return to Earth together.

One more son of a spaceman is awaiting his ride to orbit. Cosmonaut RomanRomanenko is following in the career path of his father, Yuri, who launched onthree missions. Roman is assigned to fly to the station in the fall of 2009.

NASAwill broadcast the docking of Expedition 17 with the ISS live on NASA TVThursday, April 10 beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT). Click here for's NASA TV feedand live ISS mission updates.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, 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 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.