“We are carrying some cargo up to the station in that third seat,” said Fischer in a press conference on Wednesday (April 19). “I know I speak for Fyodor when I say if we could figure out how to fit [our wives] Larisa and Elizabeth in that seat, that is who we would take with us.”
The last time that a two-person crew lifted off for the space station was in April 2003, when Ed Lu with NASA and Yuri Malenchenko with Roscosmos launched on Soyuz TMA-2 to become the Expedition 7 crew in the wake of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia two months earlier.
Like Malenchenko and Lu, who returned with a third crew member (ESA’s Pedro Duque), Fischer and Yurchikhin are slated to land in September with their empty seat filled.
Whitson, who on Monday (April 24) will surpass the record for the most time spent in space by an American astronaut — 534 days and counting, in the course of her three flights — recently had her own stay extended.
Instead of landing with Novitskiy and Pesquet in July as first planned, she will take the open seat on Soyuz MS-04 and return home with Fischer and Yurchikhin after serving on Expeditions 50, 51, and 52.
During Expeditions 51 and 52, Fischer and Yurchikhin will help with hundreds of experiments and oversee the arrival and departure of Russian and U.S. visiting vehicles — the first of which, Orbital ATK’s S.S. John Glenn Cygnus cargo freighter, is set to berth at the space station on Saturday (April 22).