Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Belgian hands station command to American

Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne this morning transferred command of the International Space Station to American Jeff Williams.

"It has been an honor, a pleasure and a privilege to work with this wonderful crew in Expedition 21," said De Winne, the first European to lead a station expedition. "It has been a great honor to be able to fulfill this role."

"You have done a very good job at it," said Williams, the leader of Expedition 22. "You have set the bar very high for me, but also for all of those that follow us."

Following tradition, the combined 12 astronauts and cosmonauts gathered in the U.S. Destiny lab rang a bell to mark the change in command.

"I relieve you of command," Williams said around 10:12 a.m. EST.

"I stand relieved," said De Winne.

Despite the ceremony, Expedition 21 technically will not end until De Winne departs Nov. 30 with Canadian Bob Thirsk and Russian Roman Romanenko, aboard a Soyuz spacecraft bound for Kazakhstan.

The ceremony was timed earlier than usual to give the outgoing expedition an opportunity to recognize flight engineer Nicole Stott, who is leaving for home Wednesday aboard Atlantis with six other shuttle astronauts.

That will end a an 87-day tour on the station as a member of Expeditions 20 and 21 that began with her Aug 30. arrival aboard Discovery.

Stott is the last station crew member who will taxi to the outpost by space shuttle. The rest will fly on Soyuz until a new U.S. vehicle is ready.

"It's just been a really amazing adventure, and I think the station is better for it," said Stott, a former shuttle engineer at Kennedy Space Center.

Williams presented Stott with a gold pin traditionally given to astronauts on the ground after completing their first flight.

After the departures of the shuttle and Soyuz over the next week, only Williams and Russian Max Suraev will remain in orbit until the arrival of another Soyuz just before Christmas.

De Winne's 46-day tenure as commander was the shortest to date.

Next up: the crews will bid each other farewell in another ceremony scheduled to start at 12:28 p.m. EST. Then they'll return to their respective vehicles and close the hatches ahead of Atlantis' departure Wednesday.

Click here to open a NASA TV video player and watch the ceremony live.

No comments: