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First European set to become ISS Commander in 2009

ESA astronaut Frank De Winne during emergency evacuation training at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Photo Credits: NASA-KSC

PARIS (BNS): European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne is all set to become the first European Commander of the International Space Station’s (ISS) Expedition 21.

He will take over the responsibilities from Expedition 20 Commander Gennady Padalka and will be in charge till his return to Earth in November next year.

According to ESA, De Winne, a Belgian, will fly to the station next May in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, along with Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canada's Robert Thirsk, increasing the ISS's full-time crew from three to six.

For the first four months, De Winne will be an ISS Flight Engineer as a member of the Expedition 20 Crew. On a rotation of three of the six-member crew due in October, De Winne will become the Commander of Expedition 21.

ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight, Simonetta di Pippo said there was another symbolic first for Europe. "It is a proud day for the Agency and clearly demonstrates that the ISS programme and its international partners honour the professionalism and the capabilities of our ESA astronauts. It also reflects the important role Europe plays in human spaceflight and exploration after the great success of Columbus and ATV earlier this year and bodes well for future undertakings in this strategic domain."

Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, who will fly as mission specialist on the 11-day STS-128 mission scheduled for July 2009, will join De Winne aboard the ISS.

Another happy event is the next European long-term mission of Italian ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who will assume the role of Flight Engineer on Expeditions 26 and 27. His launch is due in November 2010 and he will return to Earth after six months.

This will be the second mission to space for Nespoli. In October 2007, he flew on Space Shuttle flight STS-120 to deliver the European-built Node 2 to the ISS. Node 2, also known as Harmony, is the inter-connecting module to which the European Columbus space laboratory was attached in February 2008.

Nespoli was instrumental in orchestrating four spacewalks, or extra-vehicular activities, from inside the Space Shuttle and the ISS, which were necessary for further construction of the Station.

Even for De Winne, this is the second spaceflight after taking part in the Odissea mission to the ISS from October 30 to November 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 also performed a full package of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations and education activities during the Odissea mission, ESA said.

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