A rare two-man crew is scheduled to blastoff aboard the Soyuz MS-04 spaceship and travel to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft carrying veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA rookie Jack Fischer shot into the sky in bright conditions at 0713 GMT.
But Russian space agency Roscosmos announced previous year that only two cosmonauts would travel to the ISS this time as it cuts costs before the installation of a new module to expand the Russian section of the orbital lab at the end of 2017 or in early 2018. Russian Federation is scaling back space station staffing until its long-delayed science laboratory is flown to the orbiting outpost next year. They floated into the station two hours after the docking.
Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, member of the main crew to the International Space Station (ISS), gestures to his relatives from a bus prior the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, April 20, 2017.
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. The capsule will be carried on a Russian Soyuz rocket, set to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, early on Thursday morning.
She is expected to receive a congratulatory phone call on Monday from U.S. President Donald Trump, NASA said on Wednesday.
US astronaut Jack Fischer, crew member of the mission to the International Space Station, ISS, waves near the rocket prior to the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, April 20, 2017.
At 57, Ms Whitson also is the oldest woman in space. She returns to Earth in September.
"The basic crew comprises Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and United States astronaut Jack Fischer", a Roscosmos spokesman said.