New Crew Takes Charge of Space Station

New Crew Takes Charge of Space Station
Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson (far right) officially hands over command of the International Space Station to Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov (far left) during an April 17, 2008 ceremony. (Image credit: NASA TV)

The firstfemale commander of the International Space Station (ISS) handed control of theorbiting laboratory over to a new crew Thursday as she prepares for a return toEarth this weekend.

NASAastronaut Peggy Whitson turned the station?s reins over to Russiancosmonaut Sergei Volkov in a traditional ceremony before her planned Saturdaylanding on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

A RussianSoyuz TMA-11 spacecraft is scheduled to ferry Whitson, cosmonaut YuriMalenchenko and bioengineer So-yeon Yi — SouthKorea?s first astronaut — back to Earth on April 19 for their planned at about4:30 a.m. EDT (0830 GMT) landing.

?I?m officiallyhanding over the International Space Station over to Sergei Volkov, and I?mvery happy to do so,? Whitson said during the brief, televised ceremony. ?We?vehad a really great privilege and honor to be here on the station when so muchhas changed, and we feel like we?re handing over a very beautiful station toyou guys and look forward to your work.?

Whitson passedthe 374-day mark in space on Wednesday to seta new U.S. record for the most cumulative time in orbit.

She is wrappingup the station?s Expedition 16 mission with Malenchenko after six months inspace. They launched to the station last October and hosted three visiting NASAshuttle crews that boosted the outpost?s living space by delivering aconnecting module, European laboratory and, most recently, a Japanese storage roomand Canadian robot.

?Thank youso much for such a pretty station, a beautiful station,? said Volkov, the second-generationcosmonaut in command station?s new Expedition 17 crew. ?We wish for you asafe trip back home and good luck.?

Volkov andExpedition 17 flight engineer Oleg Kononenko launched to the space station withYi on April 8 and arrived two days later. The third member of their crew, NASAastronaut Garrett Reisman, was already aboard the station as an Expedition 16flight engineer.

Yi, 29, isflying a 10-day mission under a $25 million commercial agreement between Russiaand South Korea. She will complete a series of experiments and educationaloutreach activities before departing the station with Whitson and Malenchenko.

?As partinggifts, we have a couple for you?the first one is Garrett,? Whitson told Volkovas the six station astronauts erupted with laughter. ?I know he?s going to be agreat addition to your crew.?

Reismanarrived at the station in mid-March during a NASA shuttle mission. Hisreplacement is due to arrive in early June.

Whitsonalso presented Volkov with her leftover supply of hot sauce, which she served asa staple during meals aboard the space station.

?You?re incontrol now,? she told Volkov. ?You have the sauce.?

NASAwill broadcast the undocking and landing of Yi and the station's Expedition 16crew live on NASA TV beginning Friday at 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 April 19 GMT). Click here for's ISS missionupdates and NASA TV feed.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.