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US-Russian crew reaches space station with one empty seat

The Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft carrying the crew of Jack Fischer of the US and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan April 20, 2017

A scaled-down, two-man US-Russian crew arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday, six hours after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a NASA TV broadcast showed.

A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, 43, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, 58, lifted off at 1:13 pm local time/3:13 am EDT (0713 GMT) with a rare empty third seat. Russia is scaling back space station staffing until its long-delayed science laboratory is flown to the orbiting outpost next year.

Fischer and Yurchikhin reached the $100bn space station, which orbits about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, arriving on schedule at 9:18 am EDT (1318 GMT).

Fischer said he suspected the biggest challenge he faces in his first voyage into space will be learning how to use the station’s zero-gravity toilet.

“It’s all about suction, it’s really difficult,” Fischer said in a NASA interview before launch. “You just can’t train for that on the ground, so I approach my space-toilet activities with respect, preparation and a healthy dose of sheer terror.”

The rookie astronaut will be sharing the station with two seasoned veterans, a Russian cosmonaut on his second flight and a first-time French flier.

Soyuz crewmate Yurchikhin has made four previous space flights. Station commander Peggy Whitson, 57, in the midst of her third long-duration mission, is due on Monday to beat the 534-day record for cumulative time spent in space by a US astronaut.

She is expected to receive a congratulatory phone call on Monday from US President Donald Trump, NASA said on Wednesday.

Whitson, who flew to the station in November along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, will remain aboard with Fischer and Yurchikhin until September.

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