Russian crew heads to ISS

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, a pair of astronauts are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

USA astronaut Jack Fischer, above, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, crew members of the mission to the International Space Station, ISS, wave near the rocket prior the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, April 20, 2017.

They will travel six hours before docking at the space station.

Three new members are joining the crew of the International Space Station, including a toy dog.

"We are carrying some cargo up to the station in that third seat", said Fischer in a press conference on Wednesday (April 19).

That Progress spacecraft launched on an older Soyuz-U rocket, and crewed launches now take place on a more modern Soyuz-FG rocket, but the two rockets share a common third stage.

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

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On Monday, Station commander Peggy Whitson is due to beat the 534-day record for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut.

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.

He also ventured outside the confines of the space station for four spacewalks.

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Fischer, a native of Louisville, Colo., graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in Astronautical Engineering. He is the 550th person in history to fly into Earth orbit.

A camera in the Soyuz crew module shows commander Yurchikhin, left, and Fisher, right during the climb to space.

The US continues space cooperation with Russia, US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft said.

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