Change of Command on the Space Station

Before the crew of Expedition 32/33 comes home today, astronaut and commander Suni Williams handed over the reins of the International Space Station to Kevin Ford during the traditional change of command ceremony … which was not so traditional. Williams handed out gifts to the new crew, and at times seemed quite emotional. Last week Williams wrote in her blog that she really didn’t want to think about leaving the ISS. “Up to this point I haven’t, and sort of denied it,” she wrote. “And, I am still in denial, but I am going thru the motions because I don’t want to forget something when the hatch closes.”

Williams, Aki Hoshide of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko will return home after what seems like a short 125 days in space, arriving at the ISS on July 17.

They will leave the station today (Sunday, Nov 18), undocking at 22:26 UTC (5:26 p.m. EST) Sunday and land in Kazakhstan at 01:53 UTC on Monday (8:53 p.m EST Sunday). You can watch live coverage on NASA TV.

Remaining onboard the ISS to begin Expedition 34 are Ford, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin. They will be joined by Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, and NASA’s Tom Marshburn on Dec. 21 to bring the ISS crew compliment back to six. As Ford notes in the video, the new crew are “newbies” with a combined in-space experience of about 3 months, while Williams and her crew have a combined time in space of about 3 years.

JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide during an EVA on Nov. 1, 2012, where he and Suni Williams worked to troubleshoot problems with an ammonia leak outside the ISS. Credit: NASA

The time Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko were on board saw the October arrival the first official commercial spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon. Williams and Hoshide also carried out two spacewalks, with Williams now holding the record for total spacewalk time by a female at 50 hours and 40 minutes over seven career spacewalks. Malenchenko is a space veteran with several Soyuz flights, a flight on the Space Shuttle and three stints on the ISS.

Here’s the scene as Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko say goodbye and close the hatches between the ISS and Soyuz: