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Sunita Williams takes over space station command

Posted on Sep 17, 06:31PM | IANS

Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams has taken over command of the International Space Station (ISS), yet another feather in her cap as she already holds three records for female space travellers.

Expedition 32 Commander Gennady Padalka ceremonially handed over control of the space station to Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams in the Destiny laboratory Saturday afternoon during the traditional Change-of-Command Ceremony, NASA reported.

NASA astronaut Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide remain on the ISS, reported RIA Novosti.

On Sep 6, Williams set the new record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut with her sixth space walk to repair a faulty power distribution unit.

Williams surpassed Peggy Whitson's record during her excursion as she and her Japanese counterpart Akihiko Hoshide used a toothbrush and a wire brush fashioned out of a spare cable to restore power to the International Space Station.

The spacewalk lasted 6 hours 28 minutes. Williams has now worked outside the station for a total of 44 hours and 2 minutes, overtaking Whitson who worked outside for 39 hours and 46 minutes over the course of six spacewalks.

Daughter of an Indian-American father from Gujarat and a Slovenian mother, Williams holds three records for female space travellers: longest spaceflight (195 days), number of spacewalks (six) and total time spent on spacewalks (44 hours and 2 minutes).

She is the second woman of Indian origin to have been selected by NASA for a space mission after Kalpana Chawla and the second astronaut of Slovenian heritage after Ronald M. Sega.

After the ceremony onboard the ISS, a Soyuz re-entry capsule with three members of the crew landed safely in Kazakhstan, a spokesman for the Mission Control Center in the Moscow region reported.

The re-entry capsule was found near the estimated landing point. Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and US astronaut Joseph Acaba feel "normal", a commentator of the mission control's live broadcast cited officials as saying.

"The crew felt normal during the descent and landing, the cosmonauts are in good mood, weather conditions at the landing point in Kazakhstan are normal," said a spokesman for the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya), which provided aircraft for the crew's search in Kazakhstan's steppes.

The trio had arrived at the space station in May.

During its time in orbit, the crew performed one spacewalk in line with the Russian programme, carried out work with cargo and manned spacecraft, and conducted over 40 scientific experiments.

A new expedition, comprising Russian space agency cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin as well as NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, will head for the space station in late October on board the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.