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Operation to Change Crews on Space Station Begins


Expedition 23 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi, representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, tries on the Russian Sokol pressurized spacesuit he will wear when he rides the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft back to Earth, 31 May 2010

Expedition 23 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi, representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, tries on the Russian Sokol pressurized spacesuit he will wear when he rides the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft back to Earth, 31 May 2010

Three crew members aboard the International Space Station are leaving the orbiting laboratory and returning to Earth Tuesday while an American and Russian crew at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center is preparing to fly to the space station later this month.

After living and working on the space station for almost six months, three crew members are returning to Earth.

Expedition 23's Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov, NASA Flight Engineer T.J. Creamer and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi bid farewell to fellow astronauts on the space station before boarding a Kazakhstan-bound spacecraft Tuesday.

About two weeks later, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker will launch on the Soyuz TMA-19 from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The new crew members have been busy training for months. They have encountered setbacks and hardships before passing their pre-flight training checks.

Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin, who will lead the mission, told reporters on Monday that he takes full responsibility for the problems the crew has encountered during their preparations.

He added that when complications arose, everyone united as a crew and everyone stuck together.

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker agreed.

"With Fyodor, we have only worked together a short time," said Walker. "But I know that we will work very well together and actually Fyodor has got a great sense of humor, too. So I imagine while we are on the space station, we'll be laughing a lot together."

The space station-bound crew will join three Russian and U.S. crew members who have been on board the orbiting laboratory since early April.

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