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International Space Station Will Have First European Commander

By | November 24, 2008

      European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne is set to become the first European commander of the International Space Station (ISS), ESA announced.

      De Winne, from Belgium, will fly to the station in a Soyuz spacecraft in May.

      He will be accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, which will bring the total number of crew on the ISS up to six for the first time.

      That assumes that a balky system to recycle urine into drinkable water can be made to operate before then. (Please see story in this issue.)

      For the first four months De Winne will be a space station engineer as a member of the Expedition 20 Crew. With a rotation of three of the six-member crew due in October, De Winne will become commander of Expedition 21 until his return to Earth in November.

      When he becomes commander, he will relieve Expedition 20 Commander Gennady Padalka.

      De Winne was nominated to serve as ISS commander by the Multilateral Crew Operations Panel of the ISS program.

      As ISS commander, De Winne will be responsible, among other things, for conducting operations on the ISS, directing activities of ISS crewmembers as a single, integrated team, and for ensuring safety of the crew and protection of the ISS elements, equipment, and payloads.

      He also will be the main operator of the Japanese robotic arm and will be one of the two astronauts who will berth the Japanese cargo spacecraft HTV-1 to the ISS, using the ISS robotic arm when HTV-1 arrives at the station in the autumn.

      This is De Winne’s second spaceflight after taking part in the Odissea mission to the ISS in Oct. 30 — Nov. 10, 2002.

      As part of that mission he served as flight engineer on the newly designed Soyuz TMA spacecraft during ascent and on a Soyuz TM spacecraft during re-entry. He performed a full package of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations and education activities during the Odissea mission.

      De Winne has since followed additional training on the space shuttle, the ISS and on the European Columbus laboratory and Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) as back-up to French ESA astronaut L�opold Eyharts for the Columbus Mission.

      De Winne will be joined on board the ISS by Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, who will fly as mission specialist on the 11-day U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-128 Mission scheduled for July.

      The next European long-term mission has also been confirmed. Italian ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will be a flight engineer on Expeditions 26 and 27. His launch is due in November 2010. He will return to Earth half a year later in May 2011.

      It will be the second mission to space for Nespoli. In October last year he flew on U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery in the STS-120 Mission to deliver the European-built Node 2 to the ISS.

      Node 2, also known as Harmony, is the interconnecting module to which the European Columbus space laboratory was attached in February. Nespoli was instrumental in orchestrating four spacewalks, or extravehicular activities, from inside the shuttle and the ISS, which were necessary for further construction of the station.

      Nespoli is a qualified professional engineer, private pilot with instrument rating, advanced scuba diver and Nitrox diver. In 1991, he joined ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. As an astronaut training engineer, he contributed to the preparation and implementation of basic training for European astronauts and was responsible for preparing and managing astronaut proficiency maintenance. In July 1998, he was selected to be an astronaut by the Italian space agency and one month later joined ESA’s European Astronaut Corps at the European Astronaut Centre.

      ESA astronauts Andr� Kuipers and Roberto Vittori are currently in training.

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