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Space Station Crew To Be Led By Woman

Astronaut Peggy Whitson is poised to become the first woman to command the International Space Station. Whitson and two new crew members arrived at the orbiting scientific outpost Friday to begin a mission to expand the Space Station. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will spend the week familiarizing herself with the International Space Station before taking the helm from its current commander, Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, in a ceremony on Friday.

But the Space Station is already somewhat familiar to Whitson, who had served as flight engineer for six months in 2002.

Whitson will oversee the expansion of the Space Station with the installation of three new modules. The modules will increase the amount of interior space by nearly 40 percent, allowing for a total of six astronauts to live and conduct experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory. Currently, there is only enough space for three crew members on the station.

"I am looking forward though to getting additional modules, because storage has become a little bit [more] cramped than it was before," said Whitson. "So, hopefully, we will have a little more room to spread out and put things away a little better after we get some new modules up here."

Accompanying Whitson to the Space Station to relieve Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov is Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Astronaut Clayton Anderson will remain on the Space Station.

A space-flight participant from Malaysia, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, also made the trip to the Space Station in the Russian Soyuz space craft, and will return with the departing crew in about nine days.

Shukor was asked about his first reaction to outer space.

"My heart stopped beating and my eyes stopped blinking," said Shukor. "I was just staring at it the whole time. So, it was such an amazing feeling to see and feel how close I am to God's creation."

Later this month, the Space Shuttle Discovery is to dock at the Space Station. The shuttle is being commanded by astronaut Pam Melroy, and it will mark the first time that women are at the helm of both space craft at the same time.