Soyuz MS-25 has finally launched to the International Space Station with crew from Russia, Belarus, and NASA

by Justin Davenport

The fourth human spaceflight — and third orbital human flight — of the year has successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station (ISS). Soyuz MS-25 was scheduled to fly on Thursday, March 21, at 13:21 UTC from Site 31/6 at the spaceport. Mission commander Oleg Novitsky, representing Roscosmos, NASA’s Tracy Caldwell Dyson, and Belarusian Marina Vasilevskaya were on board.  An automatic abort command was issued at the T-20 second mark, however. With a 10 minute window for this launch, the next opportunity was on Saturday, March 23 at 12:36 UTC.

Once Soyuz MS-25 got off the ground, it took a 48-hour path to the ISS. If it had launched on Thursday, it was expected to take an “express” path to the Station that will take only three hours and 18 minutes to get to docking, which was expected to occur at 16:39 UTC on the same day.

This path is not available for all launch windows, and was not available for when MS-25 actually did launch. After rendezvousing with the ISS, the Soyuz spacecraft will dock to the Prichal docking module, itself attached to the Nauka science module, on the nadir side of the Station’s Russian segment. Docking is scheduled for Monday, March 25 at 11:09 AM EDT (15:09 UTC).

The hatches between the Soyuz and the Station were scheduled to open around 19:10 UTC. Afterward, the new crew members would be greeted, and welcoming remarks made. At this point there would be 10 people aboard ISS and three people aboard the Chinese Tiangong space station, bringing the total amount of people in orbit to 13. The record for most people in orbit at one time stayed at 13 from 1995 until 2021.

Rendering of the ISS and its visiting vehicles before Soyuz MS-25’s arrival. (Credit: NASA)

However, when Soyuz MS-25 returns to Earth, scheduled for Sept. 24, not all of the people launching aboard it will be aboard. Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya are slated to return to Earth after a 12-day stay aboard the Station, returning on Soyuz MS-24 along with NASA’s Loral O’Hara, who is ending her six-month tour of duty aboard the ISS. Once MS-24 leaves the ISS on April 2, Expedition 70 will officially end, and Expedition 71 will begin.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson will spend the next six months aboard ISS before returning to Earth in September aboard Soyuz MS-25. She will be joined by Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, who will have spent just over a year aboard Station after launching to the ISS aboard Soyuz MS-24 on Sept. 15, 2023, alongside O’Hara. Kononenko and Chub will join a select club of space fliers who have spent 365 or more consecutive days in orbit, with Valeri Polyakov leading the way after his marathon 437-day stay in orbit in the mid-1990s.

A coolant leak on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft in December 2022 necessitated Kononenko and Chub’s year-long stay in orbit. That spacecraft landed without crew in March 2023, as it was judged that returning it with crew would be too risky. Soyuz MS-23 launched without a crew that month and returned with the astronauts who had launched aboard MS-22.

Soyuz MS-25 prime crew portrait. From left to right: Tracy Dyson, Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya. (Credit: NASA/Andrey Shelepin)

Marina Vasilevskaya will become the first Belarusian woman in space, and the fourth person from Belarus to fly in space. Pyotr Klimuk, Vladimir Kovalyonok, and Vasilevskaya’s crewmate Oleg Novitsky are the others, but they flew under the auspices of the Soviet Union or Russia. Vasilevskaya will become the first cosmonaut from the Belarus Space Agency to fly into space, and the first person to fly to space under the Belarusian flag. Her flight is part of the country’s effort to expand its spaceflight activities in cooperation with Russia and China.

Soyuz MS-25 commander Oleg Novitsky, 52, was born in Cherven, Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union, but is currently a Russian national and serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Air Force and a Roscosmos cosmonaut. Novitsky, a former fighter pilot selected as a cosmonaut in 2006, has flown three missions aboard Soyuz to the ISS and has spent 531 days, six hours, and 58 minutes in space to date.

Novitsky’s first mission was Soyuz TMA-06M, which launched in October 2012. He served over five months on the Station as an ISS flight engineer on Expeditions 33 and 34 and launched on his second flight aboard Soyuz MS-03 in November 2016. This time, Novitsky spent 196 days, or six and a half months, in space as part of Expeditions 50 and 51. His third spaceflight launched in April 2021, when he flew aboard Soyuz MS-18 and served with Expeditions 64 and 65, landing in October 2021. Novitsky has also performed three spacewalks while aboard the ISS.

At an orbital sunrise, Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov work on the Strela crane outside the Poisk module during Novitsky’s most recent stay aboard ISS. (Credit: NASA/Roscosmos)

MS-25 spaceflight participant Marina Vasilevskaya, 33, graduated from a secondary school in Minsk, Belarus, and became a flight attendant for Belavia. As a flight attendant, Vasilevskaya worked aboard Boeing and Embraer jetliners, and she participated in a national competitive selection held by the Belarusian Academy of Sciences for the “Belarusian Woman in Space” project.

Vasilevskaya was one of six applicants chosen in December 2022. By May 2023, she was one of two remaining finalists and was chosen as a prime crew member for the ISS EP-21 expedition, which is a designation for a visiting flight that temporarily visits the Station. The first paying space tourist, Dennis Tito, flew aboard the first visiting expedition in the spring of 2001. Vasilevskaya is the only rookie aboard this flight, making her first flight to space.

The third crewmember aboard Soyuz MS-25 is veteran NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. Dyson, 54, was born in Arcadia, California, and holds a bachelor’s degree from California State University in Fullerton, along with a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of California in Davis. She is a chemist who has had numerous scientific papers published and also has experience as an electrician and a private pilot.

Tracy Caldwell’s astronaut portrait in 1998. (Credit: NASA)

Dyson, then known as Tracy Caldwell before her marriage to naval aviator George Dyson, was selected as part of the 1998 NASA astronaut class known as Group 17. She served as a capsule communicator — known as CAPCOM — for a number of Station expeditions, while also acting as prime crew support astronaut for Expedition 5. In this role, she acted as the crew’s representative for technical and operational issues during training and flight.

Besides her CAPCOM duty, Dyson also performed flight software verification in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and supported launch and landing operations at the Kennedy Space Center. Her first flight in space was aboard STS-118 in August 2007, when the Space Shuttle Endeavour carried the S5 truss segment to ISS along with the third external stowage platform to be installed on the Station.

Dyson’s next flight was aboard Soyuz TMA-18 in 2010. She performed three spacewalks to help replace a failing coolant pump and became one of four women in orbit aboard the same spacecraft. STS-131 astronauts Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, and Naoko Yamazaki joined the Expedition 23 crew in orbit for 10 days in April 2010, and STS-132 also docked with the ISS during Dyson’s nearly six-month stay aboard the Station. Dyson’s total cumulative space experience is 188 days, 19 hours, and 14 minutes.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson looking at Earth from the cupola aboard ISS. (Credit: NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson)

Soyuz MS-25 is only the second launch to take place from Baikonur Cosmodrome this year and is the second flight of 2024 for the Soyuz 2.1a variant of the Soyuz rocket after the Progress MS-26 cargo flight on Feb. 14. This flight is also just the fourth launch for the Russian program this year, as the ongoing invasion of Ukraine continues to divert the nation’s resources.

(Lead image: The Soyuz rocket launches to ISS with NASA’s Tracy Dyson, Roscosmos’ Oleg Novitskiy, and Belarusian Marina Vasilevskaya on Saturday, March 23, 2024. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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