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By | October 15, 2007

      First Female Commander Piped Aboard International Space Station

      NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) to begin her tenure as the first woman to command a station mission, two days after a flawless liftoff in a Soyuz spacecraft.

      When Whitson returns home in April, she will hold yet another distinction, that of having spent more time in space than any other woman.

      She arrived at the ISS along with a Russian cosmonaut and a space visitor, whom Maylaysians regard as an astronaut. They are Soyuz Commander and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysian orthopedic surgeon Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a space tourist whom NASA identified as a "guest" or "spaceflight participant." He may be followed by another Malaysian into space, depending on talks with Russian space officials.

      They docked their Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft to the station, two days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

      Whitson officially will become the space station commander after a ceremony about 3:15 p.m. ET Friday. This change of command event will mark the formal handover of the station to Whitson and Malenchenko, just days before the Expedition 15 crew members and Shukor depart.

      "I think it’s special that I get the opportunity to play that role" as commander, Whitson said. "But I think it’s also special to have an opportunity to demonstrate how many other women also work at NASA."

      Another female astronaut, Space Shuttle Discovery Commander Pam Melroy, will reach another milestone when she and her crew arrive at the station. It will mark the first time two women have led space missions at the same time. Discovery is set to lift off next week, on Oct. 23, but there is a question mark on that plan. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

      To familiarize themselves with station systems and procedures, Whitson and Malenchenko will conduct more than a week of handover activities with Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov and Expedition 15 and 16 Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson.

      Both crews will work together for about nine days before Yurchikhin, Kotov and Shukor depart in their Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft.

      Anderson will remain onboard with Expedition 16 and return to Earth next month aboard Discovery on its STS-120 mission. Whitson and two other crew members will perform three spacewalks during Expedition 16 to prepare the station for activation of the Harmony node.

      The Expedition 16 spacewalks also will prepare for the relocations of Harmony and Pressurized Mating Adapter-2, a docking port.

      This is Whitson’s second six-month rotation on the ISS. She previously served as a flight engineer on Expedition 5 in 2002, when she became NASA’s first station science officer, conducting 21 investigations in human and life sciences.

      During that mission, she also used the station’s robotic arm to help add two truss segments to the station’s backbone and performed a spacewalk to install debris shielding.

      Whitson was born and raised in Iowa, where at an early age she was inspired by the men who walked on the moon. "I thought ‘what a cool job!’"

      She decided she wanted to fly in space after graduating from high school, which was the same year they picked the first set of female astronauts. Whitson knew she wanted to work for NASA, if not as an astronaut, then as a scientist.

      Whitson received a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 and a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Whitson worked as a research biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch at Johnson Space Center in Houston. For the next several years, she held a number of senior positions within NASA until her selection as an astronaut in 1996.

      WGS Satellite Lifted To Orbit By Atlas V Rocket From Cape Canaveral

      The first of five Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites was hoisted to orbit by an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (ULA), The Boeing Co. [BA] announced.

      ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT].

      Liftoff came from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Fla.

      The launch was a success, with Boeing reporting that it acquired signals from the satellite after it reached orbit. WGS, an Air Force program, aims to provide a 10-fold increase in telecommunications capacity for the bandwidth-hungry military.

      Following a nominal 45-minute flight, the launch vehicle upper stage deployed the spacecraft, and a ground station in Dongara, Australia, received the satellite’s first signals 47 minutes later.

      Boeing controllers in El Segundo, Calif., confirmed that the satellite is healthy. Following a series of orbital maneuvers and in-orbit testing, the satellite is expected to begin Air Force service during the first three months of next year.

      The WGS series of satellites will augment and eventually replace the Defense Satellite Communication System constellation as well as the Global Broadcast Service function currently provided by the Navy Ultra High Frequency Follow-On satellites, which were built by Boeing.

      WGS also will reduce government reliance on commercial satellite communications services.

      The satellite is a Boeing 702 spacecraft that operates at both X-band and Ka-band frequencies, and provides operational features not available from any other military satellite communications system, according to Boeing.

      For example, WGS has 18 reconfigurable coverage areas and the ability to broadcast or multicast transmissions into the various coverage areas and connect users between any and all coverage areas even when operating on different frequency bands. Boeing designs and manufactures the satellites at its factory in El Segundo, Calif.

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