Soyuz space capsule carrying American, Russian blasts off for International Space Station

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Barring any unexpected technical problems, a Soyuz rocket will launch Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying just two people: first-time NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin.

Yurchikhin, 58, has racked up 537 days in space over the course of four missions to the ISS, more than any USA astronaut but some way short of the 879 days logged by record-holding compatriot Gennady Padalka. The Russian rocket carries US astronaut Jack Fischer and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. This frees up two Soyuz seats a year.

Fischer and Yurchikhin were the first to receive permission from Roscosmos to name their Soyuz - "Argo". Whitson, who launched with Novitskiy and Pesquet in the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft last November 17, will remain in orbit when her crewmates return to Earth June 2.

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A scaled-down, two-man U.S. This will be Fischer's first flight into space.

He will become the 38th Air Force Academy graduate to become an astronaut. On Saturday, an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship launched Tuesday will arrive for berthing at the central Unity module's Earth-facing port. 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 USA astronaut.

She will be called by President Donald Trump.

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Fischer and Yurchikhin will spend more than four months aboard the orbiting space station before also returning to Earth in September.

When the pair reach the station, they'll join astronauts and cosmonauts already on board, and help with hundreds of biological, biotechnological, physical, and Earth-science experiments.

The launch was carried out from the Russian-leased launch facility of Baikonur, carrying 70 kilograms of food products.

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Mr Yurchikhin, 58, has made four space flights before but his NASA rookie crewmate is on his maiden voyage, and fears figuring out how to use the zero-gravity toilets aboard the ISS may be his biggest challenge.

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