Aboard the international space station, the incoming and outgoing crews have formally exchanged command. The crew of the space shuttle Discovery, which is docked at the station, is preparing for another spacewalk Saturday.
The change of command ceremony was a formality. The new crew of U.S. commander Frank Culbertson and Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin officially took over operations Monday.
But the ceremony gave outgoing Russian commander Yuri Usachev the opportunity to publicly thank his team and transfer authority." It's time to hand over the station to the commander of Expedition Three, Frank Culbertson," said Yuri Usachev through a translator. "Best wishes and congratulations. Good luck."
" I accept command of the station," responded Frank Culbertson."We are ready to take this responsibility, and continue the mission you have executed so well."
The old crew returns to Earth aboard the visiting space shuttle next week, after more than five months in orbit. The new crew will remain until early December. They have spent their first week aboard the outpost learning details of operations and equipment from the team they succeed.
Commander Culbertson says one of the most important things he has had to learn is to move slowly in weightlessness, so as not to overshoot his destination. "The station is a very big place, and the tendency is to want to zip [move quickly] from one place to another," he said. "You have got to learn when you first get here that you've got to be in control, or you're going to end up some place unexpected."
On Saturday, two shuttle astronauts will venture outside the station for a second spacewalk this week. They are to run heater cables for a truss structure to arrive at the station next year.
During their first outing on Thursday, they mounted a spare ammonia cooling tank on the station. They also installed two suitcase-size boxes containing a science experiment. They hold hundreds of different types of materials, and researchers want to see how they react in the harsh space environment.
The chief mission scientist, John Uri, says the exterior experiment is unprecedented. "We're now doing continuous science, both inside and outside of the station. That's a first for us," he said.
Saturday's spacewalk was nearly canceled. The shuttle crew got behind on removing trash from the space station, and the spacewalk is a low priority for this mission anyway. But they have caught up on their work, and told U.S. Mission Control they can spare the crewmembers to conduct the outing.