BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, Apr 21: A Soyuz spacecraft carrying a Russian and an American reached the International Space Station on Thursday, completing the first two-man flight to the ISS in over a decade.
The Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft with veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA rookie Jack Fischer onboard successfully docked to the ISS at 1319 GMT (9.19pm Singapore time), Russian space agency Roscosmos said.
Manned launches to the ISS usually involve three crew members.
But Roscosmos announced last year that in the near future only two cosmonauts would be onboard the ISS rather than three as has been the case in recent times.
The agency explained it is seeking to cut costs on supply missions prior to the installation of a new module to expand the Russian section of the orbital lab at the end of 2017 or in early 2018.
Another Russian-American duo, Yuri Malenchenko and Edward Lu, undertook the last two-man mission to the ISS, in April 2003.
Yurchikhin and Fischer are beginning a five-month mission at the station where three astronauts, including NASA’s Peggy Whitson, are already stationed.
In an emotional interview with NASA TV, Fischer, a 43-year-old former US air force pilot, said he would be “thinking about Dad” as he enters orbit.
When dying from cancer his father encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut, Fischer said.
Yurchikhin, 58, has racked up 537 days in space over the course of four missions to the ISS, more than any US astronaut but well short of the 879 days logged by record-holding compatriot Gennady Padalka.
Fischer and Yurchikhin will be onboard the ISS to witness Whitson break the 534-day American record for cumulative days in space previously held by Jeff Williams.
US President Donald Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump are expected to congratulate Whitson on her achievement in an Earth-to space call on Monday, according to NASA.
Whitson also became the first woman to take charge of the ISS twice, having inherited command of the lab for the first time from Yurchikhin in 2007.
She will return to Earth in early September with both Fischer and Yurchikhin after NASA decided to extend her stay in space by three months.
France’s Thomas Pesquet and Oleg Novitsky of Roscosmos will be the next members of the ISS crew to return to Earth, with a landing scheduled for early June.
Russia is currently the only country executing manned space flights to the ISS, despite its space industry having suffered a string of setbacks and launch failures in recent years.
The ISS laboratory, a rare example of American and Russian international cooperation, has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour since 1998.