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Space Veteran Commands Next Station Crew
Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka Image left: Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka checks the fit of his U.S. spacewalking suit.

Gennady Padalka eagerly awaits his next trip into space. The Federal Space Agency cosmonaut is the commander of Expedition 9, a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station slated for launch in April.

Although he has never visited the Station, life in orbit will be nothing new for Padalka. His single previous space flight took him to the Russian Space Station Mir for a six-month stay in 1998-1999. That experience gave him an understanding of what his crewmate, NASA Astronaut Mike Fincke, will be going through as a first-time space voyager.

"This is [a very] stressful event for the astronauts and cosmonauts who ... [do] this for the first time in their life," Padalka said in a recent interview.

"NASA officials and Russian Space Agency officials always try to assign at least one flown astronaut or cosmonaut in the crew in order to facilitate [the] job onboard Space Station ... especially for the first ... three or four weeks."

Advice from a Living Legend

Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka Image right: Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka checks his notes while working in a simulator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Padalka was a pilot in the Russian Air Force when a chance meeting with a Soviet legend charted a new course for his career.

"Once, I met our famous Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov," Padalka said. "He participated in the first international project -- I mean Apollo-Soyuz -- and he was the first man who performed a spacewalk. He suggested that I become a cosmonaut. I agreed."

During Padalka's stay aboard Mir, he and crewmate Sergei Avdayev conducted two spacewalks. Padalka believes his experience during those activities, along with the recent training he has received with crewmate Mike Fincke, will give him the ability to conduct the two spacewalks that are scheduled for Expedition 9.

Getting Ready to Spacewalk

Fincke, who will be alongside Padalka for the spacewalks, explained the plan for the first one: "Gennady's going to be leading us out the door ... We're actually retrofitting the Space Station, modernizing it, so that it can be ready to handle a newer, bigger cargo ship that the Europeans are building.

"So Gennady and I are going to step out the door and work on ... setting up the Space Station so that when the European Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ship is ready to launch, the Space Station will be ready to receive."

Padalka spoke about the second spacewalk: "Another spacewalk will be associated with ... a pump which is installed in the external thermal control system. It is not malfunctioning. This pump has exceeded its design lifetime. And during this spacewalk, we need to carry inside some science experiments that have been exposed to the space environment for a long time."

For Padalka, the Station represents a higher ideal for humanity.

"Space Station is only a tiny part of our planet," he said. "But I think this is a great example how our life can be established on the ground in the ideal. We are happy that, at last, our countries, our nations, our space agencies and people themselves have matured in their ability to work together. I think this is the most important contribution in this project."

+ Read the complete interview transcript
+ Expedition 9 Preflight Gallery