NASA Hands Over International Space Station To Europe

NASA has handed over the golden key to the International Space Station to the European Space Agency.

As the ISS free falls around Earth at a speed of 27,600 kilometres per hour, the American-led Expedition 56 handed over the command of the station to the ESA.

Commander Alexander Gerst, from Germany, will take over control of the ISS, along with Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA) and Sergey Prokopyev (Russian Space Agency) for Expedition 57.

"I hereby relinquish command of the International Space Station to you, Alex Gerst, of the European Space Agency," outgoing NASA Commander Drew Feustel said, before handing over the ceremonial golden key.

It will be Gerst's second time on the ISS and his first in command.

"I herewith take command of the International Space Station Expedition 57," Gerst said during the 'ceremony'.

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International Space Station. Image: Getty Images

With a handshake and the ringing of the  bell -- an old Navy tradition to signify the arrival or departure of a crew -- the command was handed over to a European for just the second time since 2009.

The NASA crew left the ISS with hugs from their European colleagues, before the hatches between their Soyuz crew ship and the station were closed at 3.06pm (AEST) on Thursday afternoon.

Feutsal and his crew will land back on Earth late on Thursday evening, after 197 days in space.

Two more crew members, Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague are expected to join to the crew on board on October 11.

Feature Image: Getty Images