Space Station to Get 1st Female Russian Crewmember This Month

Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova in Training
Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova does spacecraft rendezvous training for Expedition 41/42 at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Image credit: NASA)

A Russian cosmonaut is poised to make a bit of history this when she launches to the International Space Station this month, even if she considers the mission a routine spaceflight.

When cosmonaut Elena Serova launches to the station on Sept. 25 with two other crewmates, she will become the International Space Station's first-ever female Russian crewmember and only the fourth female cosmonaut to reach space. She'll also be the first female Russian cosmonaut to fly in the 17 years since cosmonaut Yelena Kondakova's STS-84 space shuttle mission in May 1997.

But Serova, 38, said she doesn't see her mission any differently than that of a male cosmonaut. 

"I wouldn't say I am doing more ... than what my colleagues are doing," she said in translated remarks during a preflight briefing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in July. [Women in Space: A Gallery of Firsts]

Elena Serova will be the fourth female cosmonaut to fly in space during Expedition 41/42 in 2014. (Image credit: NASA)

Serova pointed out that women have gone into space before, and that her focus is on fulfilling her assigned duties as a flight engineer.

"I want to perform my job really well," she said.

In 1963, Russia (then part of the Soviet Union) was the first nation to fly a woman in space, sending Valentina Tereshkova aloft in June of that year on a mission that lasted nearly three days in Earth orbit.

The Expedition 41/42 crew includes, from left, Barry Wilmore (NASA), Alexander Samokutyaev (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova (Roscosmos). (Image credit: NASA)

Svetlana Savitskaya was the second Soviet female cosmonaut, making two flights into space in 1982 and 1984 and staying aboard the Salyut 7 space station. She also was the first female to peform a spacewalk.

The United States didn't send its first woman to space until 1983, when Sally Ride blasted off. Dozens of women from the United States and other nations have flown since, but only one other from Russia: Kondakova. She made two trips to the Mir space station, in 1994 (on a Soyuz capsule) and 1997 (on a space shuttle).

Serova has said she's been fascinated by space since childhood, and that she always felt visiting the final frontier was possible. "The door to space was opened to all women by Valentina Tereshkova," she said in a NASA interview.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: