Change of Command: ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet Takes Over As Space Station Commander

International Space Station Seen From Soyuz-MS18

The International Space Station as seen from Soyuz-MS18 as the spacecraft circled around to a new docking port on September 28, 2021. Credit: Roscosmos

On October 4, 2021, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet became commander of the International Space Station, taking over from Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut and fellow Crew-2 member Akihiko Hoshide. Thomas will hold this role until shortly before Crew-2 return to Earth in November.

Thomas officially accepted his new position during a traditional ceremony, broadcast live from the International Space Station, where a symbolic handover of a key from Aki to Thomas denoted the change of command.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet (left) and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide (right) performed a spacewalk on September 12, 2021, to prepare another section of the International Space Station for its solar panel upgrade. Credit: NASA

The full title of this role is International Space Station crew commander. While overall command of the Station lies with ground-based flight directors, unless there is an emergency on board, the role of crew commander is vital to mission success.

Aki became commander on April 27, 2021, when he took over from NASA astronaut Shannon Walker. In September Aki and Thomas conducted the first spacewalk without a Russian or US astronaut.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide pose for a picture in the Japanese module Kibo on the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA

ESA’s first commander of the International Space Station, now head of the Agency’s European Astronaut Centre, Frank de Winne, says the International Space Station crew commander holds responsibility for crew morale and wellbeing. It is up to them to ensure crew members can perform the tasks required of them during their time in space.

Thomas says “I have been blessed to live and work with commander Aki Hoshide, and with commander Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough during my first mission, so I could learn and watch how it is done from the best. Now I just have to follow in their footsteps for the last part of Expedition 65.”

Infographic showing the astronauts on Expedition 65 and 66 to the International Space Station. Credit: ESA

This is the fourth time a European is commander of the Space Station, and the first time for France. Thomas follows in the footsteps of ESA astronauts Frank de Winne, Alexander Gerst and Luca Parmitano.

Two new crews are set to arrive at the Space Station this month, with a new targeted launch date of 30 October just announced for ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer as a member of US Commercial Crew-3.

Matthias’s six-month ‘Cosmic Kiss’ mission will be his first time in space and the first time an ESA astronaut will be in command while two European astronauts are in orbit.

Thomas will hand over commander to Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov when Expedition 65 becomes Expedition 66.

European Space Agency (ESA)

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