The International Space Station received two new arrivals on Thursday, via Russian Soyuz capsule launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  The cold war era capsule carried American rookie astronaut Jack Fischer, 43, as well as seasoned cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, 58.  They took off just after 1PM local time (3AM EST) on Thursday, and arrived at the space station just about six hours later.

The three seater-capsule flew with an extremely uncommon empty third seat due to Russia choosing to reduce its staffing of the Space Station until its new science laboratory reaches the ISS sometime next year.

Fischer, an Air Force colonel, was selected by NASA for the astronaut program in 2009 but has yet to make the trip into orbit until Thursday.  Prior to serving in NASA, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the Air Force Academy before going on to achieve a Masters of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  During his time at NASA, he has served as a Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for Soyuz missions as well as the ISS.

Despite his stellar academics and military prowess, Fischer was not without apprehension about his inaugural trip to the space station, hanging two hundred and fifty miles above our heads.  It wasn’t the risk of death, the cramped quarters, or the professional obligations of an astronaut that had him concerned however; it was the 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.”

Fischer and Yurchikhin joined Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA, Flight Engineer Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos, and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) at the International Space Station, increasing its total crew for the time being to five.  They are expected to spend the next four months conducting more than 250 science experiments and investigations focused on fields such as “biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.”

Novitskiy from Roscosmos and Pesquet from ESA will remain aboard the station until early June, while the other three, including Whitson, who will set the record for longest time an American astronaut has spent in space, will return home in September.  Whitson had been scheduled to return weeks ago, but was extended into Expedition 52 (the current mission) by an agreement made between NASA and Roscosmos signed just prior to her scheduled departure.

Fischer may be America’s rookie in orbit, but he’s under strong tutelage from Whitson, who recently broke the record for most time spent space walking by a woman.  The two Americans are scheduled to take part in a new spacewalk on May 12 to replace “an avionics box on the starboard truss called an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier.”  The box houses electrical and command data routing equipment used in science experiments, as well as equipment maintained outside the hull of the ISS for external use by spacewalkers.