Wakata Becomes 1st Japanese To Assume Command Of Iss

Wakata becomes 1st Japanese to assume command of ISSKoichi Wakata replaced Russia's Oleg Kotov as commander of the International Space Station, a first for a Japanese astronaut, on March 9.

“I am impressed by the bright, glowing lights,” Wakata said, referring to areas in Japan hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as seen from orbit. “I am encouraged, feeling the efforts toward recovery.”

The 50-year-old, on a six-month mission aboard the ISS, took over command of the crew after a ceremony held around 6 p.m. Japan time. He will serve as the 39th mission commander for two months until he returns to Earth. His responsibilities will include protecting the lives of crew members in the event of an emergency.

“As a Japanese, I am proud to assume an important role in one of the largest international projects in the world,” Wakata said. “I want to fulfill my mission by putting priority on the spirit of harmony.”

Wakata is on his fourth trip into space and is on his second extended stay aboard the space station.