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Next Space Station Crew To Have First Woman Commander

24 July 2007

First Malaysian to visit International Space Station also set for October flight

Washington – The next visitors to the International Space Station, scheduled to arrive in October, include the first woman to lead a long-duration spaceflight and spaceflight participant Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the first Malaysian angkasawan (astronaut) to visit the orbital outpost.

The Expedition 16 crew – Commander Peggy Whitson, 47, flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko, 46, and Shukor, 35 – will launch October 6 on a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“It is going to be a very complicated and aggressive mission,” Whitson said during a July 23 briefing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, “but I think I’ve got a great team.”

The first member of Expedition 16 already is aboard the space station – astronaut Clayton Anderson, 48, is now part of Expedition 15.

As now scheduled, Whitson, Malenchenko and Shukor will arrive at the station October 8, and Shukor will return to Earth with Expedition 15 crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov after nine days aboard the station.

Astronaut Daniel Tani, 46, will arrive October 22 to replace Anderson on Discovery (STS-120), scheduled for launch October 20.


From now until 2010, when NASA retires the space shuttle fleet, each shuttle mission and space station crew will be busy assembling and expanding the orbital laboratory, and preparing for the first six-member station crew in 2009.

“It’s going to be an extremely exciting time, sort of a moment of growth for the space station,” Tani said during the briefing. “All of that [new] capability gives us more space, more power and more capability to do the science that we really have designed this vehicle to do.”

In December or January, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Leopold Eyharts, 50, will arrive at the space station on Atlantis (STS-122), to replace Tani. Atlantis will deliver the ESA’s Columbus Laboratory to the space station, and the shuttle crew will include ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel. Eyharts will oversee laboratory activation and checkout.

“This is the first time there is such cooperation in a space flight project. I see that as very important for the future,” Eyharts said. “For Europe, it’s particularly important because this will be the first time that we will have European [space equipment] permanently in space. This is a key point for Europe and the basis for future projects and the future exploration of space.”

The final member of Expedition 16, Garrett Reisman, 39, is scheduled to launch on shuttle Endeavour February 14, 2008. Reisman will replace ESA astronaut Eyharts and stay aboard the station as part of the next crew, Expedition 17, and return to Earth on Atlantis (STS-119) in the summer of 2008.

“What we’re doing is taking small steps toward the future that was promised to us by the great science fiction of the 1950s,” Reisman said, “where we have colonies on other planets and we’re traveling throughout the solar system and beyond. That is kind of the peaceful international cooperative future that I like to envision as where we, as humanity, are heading.”


Shukor, chosen from among 11,000 candidates, is flying under an agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos. He is an orthopedic physician who plans to perform experiments with cancer cells, proteins and microbes during his nine-day mission, he said during the NASA briefing.

After completing initial training at Star City in Russia, Shukor and 26-year-old Malaysian army physician Captain Faiz Khaleed were selected to undergo an 18-month training course in Russia. When Shukor was chosen to go to the space station, Khaleed was named his backup.

The Malaysian government initiated the angkasawan program to send a Malaysian to the space station. The program has scientific, technological and inspirational objectives.

“To me, it’s not just about going to space,” Shukor said, even though he has been dreaming about going to space since he was 10 years old. “More importantly, I do hope to come back and form a space program in Malaysia. I’m trying to spark an interest among schoolchildren and all the Malaysian people.”

Shukor said he hopes such a space program “will change the entire nation to look forward to become a better developed nation. That’s what I hope to do.”

Peggy Whitson, to be the first woman space station commander, also hopes to be an inspiration.

“I would hope that we attract more young women into science and math and engineering fields,” she said, “because it’s important for young women to see where we’re headed in the future and to be a key part of exploration as well. I hope I can serve as a role model.”

More information about the shuttle missions and the International Space Station is available at the NASA Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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