Pledging to uphold the Japanese spirit of “wa” — harmony — Koichi Wakata took command of the International Space Station on Sunday, the first Japanese astronaut to lead a human space mission.

In a change-of-command ceremony, broadcast on NASA Television, Wakata, thanked the outgoing commander, Russian Oleg Kotov, for his leadership as well as crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mike Hopkins, all of whom who will be returning to Earth on Monday.

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“We will continue to keep  the station operations safe, efficient and fun, as you guys led us to do so. Have a safe return and we’ll catch you back on the planet in a couple of months,” Wakata said.

Wakata, 50, who is serving for the second time aboard the space station, becomes only the third person who is not an American or a Russia to lead a space station crew. Previously, Canadian Chris Hadfield and the European Space Agency’s Frank DeWinne held command posts.

“I hope you will bring station operation to success with ‘wa’ spirit,” a Japanese flight director said, speaking through a translator.

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“Wa — harmony — is a creed,” replied Wakata. “I think it expresses the spirit of Japanese through its long history. I really want to respect the ‘wa’ spirit.”

Wakata will remain in command until he and crewmates Rick Mastracchio and  Mikhail Tyurin return to Earth in mid-May. They will be joined by three new space station crewmembers – Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov and Steve Swanson — later this month.