1st Belarusian woman reaches space on ISS-bound Soyuz launch (video)

For the first time, a spacecraft has lifted off with a flight attendant aboard, but there will be no drink service during the flight.

Marina Vasilevskaya, who also served as a flight instructor for Belavia Airlines in her home country of Belarus, traded her attendant uniform for a Russian Sokol pressure suit to become the first Belarusian woman to fly into space. On Saturday (March 23), she launched on Russia's Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft with cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky of Roscosmos and NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson on a mission to the International Space Station.

"It's a big honor for me and a big responsibility to be in this unbelievable mission," said Vasilevskaya before heading to the launch pad. "This is our national project. It's such a big honor. I'm so proud to represent our republic."

The three crewmates left Pad 31/6 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan at 8:36 a.m. EDT (1236 GMT or 4:36 p.m. local time) riding atop a Soyuz-2.1a rocket. It was their second try at launching to space after a low voltage warning from a piece of ground support equipment halted the countdown on Thursday.

Nine minutes into the flight, a small figurine of "Sharik," the black and white puppy from the Soviet-era cartoon "A Kitten Named Woof," began to float while attached to a tether.

The toy, or "zero-g indicator," signaled that Novitsky, Dyson and Vasilevskaya had entered Earth orbit. The Soyuz was now on a trajectory to autonomously dock with the station after circling the planet 34 times. The two spacecraft are scheduled to link together using Russia's Prichal node at 11:09 a.m. EDT (1509 GMT) Monday.

Related: International Space Station: Everything you need to know about the orbital laboratory

Russia's Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft, atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket, lifts off for the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Saturday, March 23, 2024. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Once aboard the station, Novitsky, Dyson and Vasilevskaya will be welcomed by Expedition 70 commander Oleg Kononenko and cosmonauts Nikolai Chub and Alexander Grebenkin of Roscosmos and NASA astronauts Loral O'Hara, Matthew Dominick and Jeanette Epps. Dyson will join the resident crew, serving as a flight engineer, over the next six months.

The Soyuz MS-25 "zero-g indicator" is a small figurine of "Sharik," a puppy from the Soviet cartoon "A Kitten Named Woof." (Image credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center)

Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya will be aboard the station for about 12 days, after which they will return to Earth with O'Hara on Soyuz MS-24. The three will depart the orbiting laboratory for a landing on the steppe of Kazakstan on April 6.

To enable Vasilevskaya's brief visit as a spaceflight participant, Kononenko and Chub will remain on the station for another six months. After a yearlong stay, they will arrive home with Dyson on Soyuz MS-25 in September.

Soyuz MS-25 crewmates Oleg Novitsky, Tracy Dyson and Marina Vasilevskaya wave from the base of their Soyuz-2.1a rocket prior to boarding their spacecraft for launch. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Vasilevskaya, 33, was selected to fly by the Belarus Academy of Sciences and Belarus Space Agency through a nationwide contest. She was one of six finalists from a pool of more than 3,000 female candidates and was ultimately chosen over another flight attendant, two scientists and two doctors. Anastasia Lenkova, a 28-year-old pediatric surgeon, was named Vasilevskaya's backup.

"Her work ethic is really noteworthy," said Dyson of Vasilevskaya in an interview with collectSPACE.com. "She's a flight attendant. That's her day job and, as you know, flight attendants don't just serve drinks. They're primarily responsible for our personal safety on board the aircraft and so she's no stranger to emergency situations and what to do and how to stay calm during them. She's demonstrated that in our sims and our training together, especially those that involve putting masks on our heads and changing from one suit to another, so she has really been a delight to work with."

"She's really stepped up to whatever role she's been assigned and what she lacks in experience as a cosmonaut she makes up for with a great attitude," said Dyson.

Prior to serving on Boeing and Embraer aircraft for Belavia, Vasilevskaya devoted 15 years to competing as a professional ballroom dancer. She is first the citizen of the Republic of Belarus to reach space. Pyotr Klimuk and Vladimir Kovalyonok, both of the former Belarus Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), preceded her into orbit on their first spaceflights in 1973 and 1977, respectively.

Novitsky, 52, is making his fourth flight to the space station as commander of Soyuz MS-25. A retired lieutenant colonel in the Russian Air Force, he previously logged more than 531 days in space on his three prior missions in 2013, 2017 and 2021. He joined Russia's cosmonaut corps in 2006.

Dyson, 54, is on her third mission to the space station following a space shuttle visit in 2007 and a long-duration stay in 2010. She has already logged more than 188 days in space. A chemist with a doctorate from the University of California at Davis, Dyson joined NASA with its 17th group of astronauts in 1998.

The Soyuz MS-25 and visting expedition mission patches, including emblems from Russia and Belarus. (Image credit: Roscosmos via collectSPACE.com)

Dyson and Vasilevskaya are the first two women to launch together on board a Russian spacecraft. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and South Korean spaceflight participant Soyeon Yi previously landed together aboard Soyuz TMA-11 in 2007.

MS-25 is Russia's 71st Soyuz to launch for the International Space Station since 2000 and the 154th to fly since 1967.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.