Image: Station change of command
Expedition 8 commander Michael Foale, left, hands over command of the international space station over to Expedition 9 commander Gennady Padalka, far right, during Monday's change-of-command ceremony. Looking on are Expedition 8 flight engineer Alexander Kaleri, Expedition 9 science officer Mike Fincke and visiting Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers. staff and news service reports
updated 4/28/2004 3:44:39 PM ET 2004-04-28T19:44:39

High above Earth, the clanging of a ship’s bell marked the official change of command at the international space station on Monday.

NASA astronaut Mike Foale handed over command to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who is beginning a six-month stay on the outpost with American Mike Fincke as part of Expedition 9. Foale and crewmate Alexander Kaleri have been on the station since October and are set to leave the station for home in a Russian capsule on Thursday.

The station has recently been beset with several maintenance issues, most recently a failed steering gyroscope that will have to be fixed during a future spacewalk. But Foale says the station is in good overall shape.

“We have fulfilled the task laid out for us during these six months in orbit and responded to unforeseen difficulties," Foale told the new crew during Monday's ceremony. "We are leaving you with an international space station that is as capable and worthy as we received it, to continue its care and utilization as our planet’s only existing base camp and frontier post in lower Earth orbit.”

Padalka responded in like manner: “We accept our the responsibility of taking over command of this facility. And we are confident that we will leave it next October in the same condition in which you are bestowing it to us.”

Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers rode up to the station with Padalka and Fincke a week ago and has been conducting short-term scientific experiments. He will come back down to Earth with Foale and Kaleri.

Since the Columbia tragedy, more than a year ago, NASA has been relying on Russia for crew exchanges and resupply flights. Under the best-case scenario, shuttles would resume flying to the station next March.

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