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Space station handover ceremony delayed

New Alpha commander Frank Culbertson
New Alpha commander Frank Culbertson  

By Amanda Barnett

(CNN) -- New space station commander Frank Culbertson took charge of Alpha on Monday, but he hasn't had time for an official change of command ceremony.

A ceremony marking the occasion was slated for Wednesday afternoon, then delayed at Culbertson's request because he was too busy learning his new job, according to NASA. The ceremony now is set for Friday, but the exact time hasn't been set.

Culbertson and his two Russian crewmates were to spend their first night alone on the station Wednesday. They were to sleep in Alpha after hatches were closed to the docked space shuttle Discovery to prepare for a spacewalk on Thursday.

The departing Alpha crew, Russian commander Yury Usachev and U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss, were to sleep in the shuttle with the Discovery crew.

Message Board: Space Exploration  

Mission Guide: STS-105  

A handover ceremony also was conducted when Usachev replaced the first station commander, U.S. astronaut Bill Shepherd. The Americans and Russians are alternating command of Alpha.

Culbertson, who still is getting on the job training Usachev, calmly handled a false fire alarm on the station on Wednesday.

"I guess you saw that we're looking at a smoke alarm...but don't see any evidence of anything," Culbertson told Mission Control at mid-afternoon.

"Copy, no evidence," Mission Control responded. "Yes, we do see it. We're checking."

NASA quickly reported it was a false alarm.

Finding the bells and whistles

Culbertson, who has a degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, has logged over 6,000 hours flying time in 40 different types of aircraft.

He also is a veteran of two space flights with more than 344 hours in space before he was launched to Alpha on space shuttle Discovery on August 10. And he was responsible for a multi-national panel in charge of nine shuttle docking missions with the Russian space station Mir.

Prior to his current flight assignment, Culbertson spent a year as Deputy Program Manager for Operations of the International Space Station Program.

In other words, he's no slacker on the ground or in orbit.

Culbertson, center, flanked by his Russian crewmates: Vladimir Dezhurov, left, and Mikhail Tyruin.
Culbertson, center, flanked by his Russian crewmates: Vladimir Dezhurov, left, and Mikhail Tyruin.  

But like any employee taking on a new assignment, a big part of the job is just learning where stuff is stowed.

"We're finding all the switches and where everything is hidden and probably in a few days we'll actually know where to find things," he said Tuesday.

To help Culbertson and his two Russian crewmates, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, get familiar with their new job site, NASA scheduled time for the new crew to talk to the departing crew.

"They're incredibly organized and it's going to be a lot easier for us than it might have been if they had not taken the time that they have and spent the time showing us things," Culbertson said.

The two space station crews, along with the four Discovery astronauts, have finished unloading supplies from the Italian-built Leonardo cargo module, a shiny giant cylinder that the shuttle crew attached to the space station on Monday.

Among the items unloaded, a new bed for Alpha. Prior to this shuttle delivery flight, there were sleeping quarters for only two Alpha residents. The third had to sleep on a makeshift bunk in the Destiny science lab.

The reusable container is being filled with trash and other items that are to be sent back to Earth.

The Discovery crews spent much of Wednesday getting ready for a spacewalk scheduled for Thursday morning. Mission specialists Daniel Barry and Patrick Forrester will attach hardware and experiments to the exterior of Alpha. A second spacewalk is scheduled for Saturday.

The returning Alpha crewmembers, meanwhile, are doubling up on exercise sessions to prepare for their return to Earth's gravity. By the time Discovery lands on August 22, the three will have been in space more than 167 days.

• NASA Human Spaceflight
• The Space Shuttle Clickable Map
• Oceanography from the Space Shuttle
• NASA Space Shuttle Virtual Tour
• Boeing: Space Shuttle Homepage
• Earth from Space

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