Two Russiancosmonauts turned over control of the International Space Station to theirreplacements Wednesday as they prepare to return to Earth with an Americanspace tourist.
Space stationcommander Sergei Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, both of Expedition17, handed the orbiting laboratory?s reins to its new Expedition 18 crew duringa traditional change of command ceremony. The two cosmonauts are due to land onthe Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan late Thursday with American spacetourist Richard Garriott.
?I wouldlike to thank everyone for the support we?ve received throughout our six-monthstay on board the station,? Volkov said during the televised ceremony. ?Wetried to do our best here. We accomplished a lot of tasks.?
Volkov andKononenko arrived at the station in April and hosted one visiting NASA shuttle inJune that delivered Japan?s tourbus-sized Kibo lab. They also performed two spacewalks outside the stationin July. During one, they retrieved asuspect explosive bolt from their Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft for the returntrip to Earth.
The Expedition17 crew?s landing will mark a human spaceflight first. It will be the firsttime twosecond-generation spaceflyers, Volkov and Garriott, will return to Earthtogether.
Volkov?s fatheris famed Russian long-duration cosmonaut Alexander Volkov. Garriott?s father isretired NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, a veteran station flyer aboard the U.S.Skylab outpost in 1973.
?Thanks toboth crews for welcoming me here onto your station,? said Garriott, who ispaying about $30 million for his 10-day trip under a deal between Russia?sFederal Space Agency and the Vienna, Va.-based firm Space Adventures. He is thesixth paying visitor to the space station and the first Americansecond-generation spaceflyer.
Volkov turnedcommand of the station over to Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke, of NASA,and Russian flight engineer Yury Lonchakov. The two veteran spaceflyers launchedtoward the station with Garriott on Oct. 12 and arrivedtwo days later.
?You guysdid so much and you left the ship in really fine shape,? said Fincke, a veteranstation astronaut making his second long-duration trip. ?We?re very proud to beable to take the ship and to work with it hopefully as well as you have.?
The thirdmember of the new crew is NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who joined theExpedition 17 crew during the June shuttle mission. He will stay on for thefirst part of Expedition 18 until his replacement arrives aboard NASA?s shuttleEndeavour next month.
?It?s beenan honor and a privilege to serve onboard the International Space Station aspart of Expedition 17,? said Chamitoff, adding that Volkov and Kononenko havebecome lifelong friends. ?It?s really sad for me to see them go, but I hopemaybe we can fly again in space someday.?
Garriottand the Expedition 17 crew are slated to undock from the space station at around8:15 p.m. EDT (0015 Oct. 24 GMT) and land at 11:36 p.m. EDT (0336 Oct. 24 GMT).
RichardGarriott is chronicling his spaceflight training and mission at his personalWeb site: www.richardinspace.com.
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