Setting a record for space walks by a woman astronaut, Indian American Sunita Williams will return to Earth early June.
According to NASA's Johnson Space Center, Williams will come back to Earth aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, which is scheduled for a June 8 launch. Williams has been in space since Dec 9, 2006, after she boarded space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-116 mission.
During her stay she set a record for space walks by a female astronaut, conducting four excursions over 29 hours and 17 minutes.
"The STS-117 shuttle will carry her successor astronaut Clay Anderson to the international space station to begin his duty as an Expedition 15 flight engineer," said a NASA statement.
The exchange of Anderson for Williams was originally planned for the STS-118 mission, now targetted for an August launch.
The expedition, initially set to take off in June, had to be postponed after "an unexpected hailstorm damaged Atlantis' external fuel tank and delayed the launch of STS-117".
Approving the crew rotation, NASA managers said there would be no impact on space station operations or future shuttle mission objectives.
"Since an earlier crew rotation was possible, NASA managers decided it would be prudent to return Williams and deliver Anderson sooner rather than later," the official note said.
With the new plan, Williams' mission on the station will be approximately the same length as originally anticipated.
Anderson, a Nebraska native, makes his first space flight when he joins Expedition 15. Discovery is scheduled to bring him home during the STS-120 mission, scheduled for an Oct 20 launch.