NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams Takes Over ISS Command

She replaces a Russian cosmonaut, now returned to Earth

Before part of the Expedition 32 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) left for Earth, on Sunday evening, a ceremony marking the selection of a new ISS Commander was held aboard the orbital lab. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams took over command from cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

The event took place on Saturday, September 15, before Padalka, of RosCosmos, joined fellow cosmonaut Sergei Revin, and NASA astronaut Joseph M. Acaba, inside the Soyuz TMA-04M space capsule that returned them to Earth earlier today (September 17).

Their departure, after a five-month stay in low-Earth orbit, marked the end of Expedition 32, and the beginning of Expedition 33. The latter is headed by Sunita Williams, a veteran astronaut at NASA.

She is only the second woman ever to command the ISS in more than 14 years. Williams, who arrived on the ISS on July 17, will retain her position as Commander until returning to Earth, in November.

“I would like to thank our [Expedition] 32 crewmates here who have taught us how to live and work in space, and of course to have a lot of fun up in space,” Williams told Padalka during the ceremony.

“Congratulations on the promotion to your new position. We know you'll run a fine ship up there,” Mission Control, in Houston, told Williams after the ceremony ended.

Still aboard the station are astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (RosCosmos). The remainder of the Expedition 33 crew will launch towards the ISS on October 15, aboard the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft.

The other half of the crew will consist of Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy (RosCosmos) and flight engineers Evgeny Tarelkin (RosCosmos) and Kevin A. Ford (NASA). This will be Novitskiy and Tarelkin's first trip to space, and the second for Ford, Space reports.

Williams is at her second long-duration space mission as well. During Expedition 14/15, she spent a record 195 days in space. Throughout her career, she spent 44 hours and 2 minutes performing extravehicular activities (spacewalks) outside the ISS.

“When you get up on the space station, you know what to do, so I’m not nervous about it all. I’m psyched,” she said in an interview, before launching to the ISS on the Soyuz TMA-05M capsule, this July. She will turn 47 on Wednesday, September 19.

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