Houston, Sept 17: Record-breaking Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams has taken over the command of the International Space Station, becoming the second woman in history to do so.
Williams, who holds three records for female space travellers, took over as a three-member crew of the Expedition 32 returned safely to earth, wrapping up a mission lasting more than four months.
The three-man crew onboard a Russian-made Soyuz capsule touched down successfully in central Kazakhstan steppe this morning after spending 123 days at the Space Station.
Just after the Soyuz spacecraft separated from the space station yesterday, NASA astronaut Williams took over command of Expedition 33 at the station from Commander Gennady Padalka, becoming the second woman in history to do so.
The first to hold the record was Peggy Whitson who commanded the orbiting lap in Expedition 16 mission in 2007 and 2008.
46-year-old Williams will be sharing the Space Station with veteran Russia cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide until mid-October, when three more astronauts, including NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, will arrive and round out the full crew of Expedition 33.
“I would like to thank our (Expedition) 32 crew mates 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 a change of command ceremony.
Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA, Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, landed north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan this morning.
They arrived at the station on May 17 and spent 125 days in space, 123 of which were aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The trio are expected to have a difficult time readjusting to life on earth, especially Revin and Acaba, who are coming off their first long-term stay aboard the orbiting international space lab, NASA sources said.
“The goal is to get their strength and all their function back to their preflight baseline,” said NASA flight medical officer Steve Gilmore of the rehabilitation programs the three will undergo. “In 45 days, with folks working hard, typically we get people to where they were before they launched.”
Acaba, Padalka and Revin orbited earth 2,000 times and traveled 52,906,428 miles.
Padalka now ranks fourth for the most days spent in space, a total of 711 days during four flights.
On September 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).