• Kyodo

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Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata passed the title of commander of the International Space Station to U.S. astronaut Steven Swanson early Monday and prepared to return to Earth. He spent 66 days in the role, marking a first for any astronaut from Asia.

“I had an honor of serving you as commander, which was an incredible opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and experience in managing this complex outpost of humans in space; and I couldn’t have done this job without the superb performance of my fellow crew mates and (our) great teamwork,” Wakata, 50, said at the change-of-command ceremony. Also present were five astronauts from the United States and Russia. Wakata marked the transfer of command with a simple handshake with NASA’s Swanson.

In all, he spent six months in space. He was scheduled to land in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz re-entry craft on Wednesday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

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