[caption id="attachment_81250" align="aligncenter" width="512"] L-R: wearing traditional Kazakh costumes US astronaut Michael Hopkins sits together with Russia's cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky, as they attend a press conference in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, on March 11, 2014 (Pool/AFP, Vasily Maximov)[/caption]
Wakata, 50, joined the Japanese astronaut program in 1992. He was that nation's third astronaut in orbit when he flew in 1996. Wakata said he was very humbled to take command of the space center. He added that it was an honor for Japan to be a space center program partner.
This is the 39th expedition crew to work on the space center. Wakata replaces Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov who commanded Expedition 38. Kotov spent more than 160 days in orbit. He returned to Earth on Monday, March 10 on a Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft along with fellow cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins.
Wakata commands a crew including NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Russian Federal Space Agency's Mikhail Tyurin. They're scheduled to be joined March 25 by Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson.
Command aboard the space center typically has alternated between Russian and American astronauts since permanent operation in 2000. Only Frank DeWynne from Belgium and the European Space Agency in 2009 and Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency in 2013 have broken that command monopoly until Wakata's takeover.