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European To Become First To Command ISS

May 7, 2009

European astronaut Frank De Winne is preparing for a trip to the International Space Station that will result in him becoming the first European commander to take charge of a crew aboard the orbiting outpost.

De Winne will travel from Russia’s cosmonaut training facility near Moscow to Kazakhstan, where he will board a Soyuz craft along with crewmates Roman Romanenko of Russia and Robert Thirsk of Canada.

De Winne and his crewmembers will meet commander Gennady Padalka, NASA astronaut Michael Barratt and Japan’s Koichi Wakata. The crewmember count aboard the ISS will be six, following many extensive efforts from international teams to expand the outpost’s facilities.

After four months in orbit, Padalka will leave the outpost to return to Earth, and De Winne will become the first European to command the space station.

“A big part of the mission is to step up to the six-person crew,” De Winne said. “We think we’re up to the task.”

De Winne, a former pilot and squadron leader in the Belgian Air Force, has completed one previous spaceflight ““ a nine-day research mission to the station in 2002.

According to BBC News, part of De Winne’s recent extensive training consisted of conflict resolution.

“As commander of the space station your biggest job is to keep the crew in a good mood and to make sure the crew is comfortable and well-rested and can do the job to the best of their abilities,” said De Winne.

“One of the ways to do that is to make sure that there are no conflicts amongst the crewmembers or between the crew and the ground because then people are thinking about what worries them and not the job that they have to do.”

“We have talks with psychologists and specialists about this topic. This is an integral part of this training,” he added.

De Winne also referred to the timing of the mission, which is scheduled for May 27, amidst an economic recession. He said

“Personally, we are also confronted with this crisis and we have in our families and friends people who have suffered from this, so we are certainly not isolated from this. We are all very, very well aware of what is happening on Earth,” De Winne said.

“The big advantage of the International Space Station is that it’s international – it’s not a US program where some people from other countries fly, or a Russian program, where some people from other nations fly like the Mir program.”

“It’s really an international space station, where everyone has the same rights. I think it can be a great example for the world,” he said.

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