Meeting with members of prime crew of Expedition 21 to International Space Station Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya

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On 19 March, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko held a videoconference call with members of the prime crew of Expedition 21 to the International Space Station Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya.

“I would like you to get along. After all, you hail from the same place, your roots are here [Oleg Novitsky is a native of Belarus]. We will worry about you a lot and we hope to see you after you come back. Oleg, we will cook our traditional salad [“Youth. Anti-Covid” salad that the head of state had cooked with Oleg Novitsky during one of their in-person meetings]. We will also give it to Marina. We will teach her how to cook our salad,” the president said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko started the conversation with a question to crew commander Oleg Novitsky: “Oleg, I have a question to you: How are you and our spacefarer feeling?”

According to Oleg Novitsky, Marina Vasilevskaya’s morale is very high; she is calm and focused on her work and her tasks. “Thank you very much for choosing Marina,” he said.

Although the conversation touched upon serious things, the atmosphere of the discussion was very friendly and relaxed. Everyone was in a good mood and joked a lot. “Oleg, I have one favor to ask of you (the station has an American segment): make sure that the Americans will not snatch her into their segment,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

“She will go there and leave with me by her side,” Oleg Novitsky promised.

“Yes, please! Keep your eyes on her! We need her on Earth,” answered the president.

“Of course. We’ll bring her back safe and sound,” the crew commander assured.

Marina Vasilevskaya shared her emotions and feelings with the head of state. “Of course, I am a bit anxious, since I am a young woman, and this is my first experience of this kind. But I have a very seasoned, reliable commander, and he gives me much confidence,” Marina Vasilevskaya noted. “I have the support of instructors, teachers, and my supervisor Ivan Nikolaevich Bucha [Deputy Head of the Aerospace Activities Department of the National Academy of Sciences Ivan Bucha] is always here to cheer me up”.

The Belarusian said that she is also supported by the crew, including NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson, who will also go to the ISS: “Tracy is very supportive, too. We have very good, friendly relations in the crew. We effectively work as a whole. This is what keeps me going. I am driven by responsibility to fulfill this program, the tasks, experiments, flight. This gives me confidence and strength.”

“You have a good role model. Stay close to Oleg. He is an experienced person, it is not his first flight into space,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

Oleg Novitsky spoke about the duration of the upcoming flight. He plans to return to Earth together with Marina Vasilevskaya. “This means that I will see you all soon,” the head of state noted.

“The entire Belarusian part of the crew,” confirmed Oleg Novitsky.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also asked not to lose sight of another Belarusian, the backup Anastasia Lenkova: “We’ll meet and talk about her prospects. She was trained exactly the same way as Marina. Therefore, we should keep her in mind.”

“We will,” the cosmonaut assured.

Aleksandr Lukashenko spoke about his plans to talk to the Russian side regarding a space flight of all three people who were preparing for the current launch in the future: commander Oleg Novitsky, Marina Vasilevskaya and Anastasia Lenkova, a backup for the current prime crew. "I would like the three of you to fly," the president said.

Addressing Oleg Novitsky, the head of state said: "If you feel good [after returning from the ISS], then I will ask the Russian side to organize the flight of the three of you: Nastya, Marina and you."

"Good, with pleasure," the cosmonaut replied. "We will complete any task."

"Good. In my next meetings with the Russian president I will be putting feelers on this," Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

For his part, Oleg Novitsky also asked the Belarusian head of state about something: "Maybe we should also explore the opportunity for Belarusians to participate in professional training programs not as foreigners but as brothers."

The president supported the initiative and expressed confidence that the Russian side will agree to such a proposal: "You suggest Russia train Belarusians alongside Russians, in the same way, right? I don’t think there will be any problems with that. They will agree. Nothing wrong about it. They really liked our girls in terms of training  (I know from the reviews). They are very responsible and are fast learners." Aleksandr Lukashenko assured that he would discuss this proposal with the Russian side: "I promise, I will talk about this."

In order to organize space flights with the participation of Belarusians in the future, the parties will need to address financing issues. But, as the president emphasized, there is mutual understanding with the Russian side. Cooperation is built on a mutually beneficial basis: "Putin supports us. They spare no expense to support us as a space-faring nation. We will settle with them in other areas. We have a powerful enterprise that produces satellites, including in the interests of Russia."

Now Belarusian specialists are working on a high-resolution satellite. "We have made progress in this regard," Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

"When they imposed the sanctions, they thought that we would collapse. It turned out that our services are in demand, especially those by the Russian space industry," the head of state emphasized. "Now the space segment of the economy of the Russian Federation is in great demand."

The president expressed special gratitude to Director of the Roscosmos State Corporation Yuri Borisov for his readiness to develop cooperation with Belarus: "He is really good. He responded to all my requests. He's a very decent person."

At the end of the conversation with Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya about the prospects for cooperation with Russia in space exploration, Aleksandr Lukashenko said: "We will come to an agreement with the Russians. The main thing is that you have the desire to work together."

"There is a desire, Aleksandr Grigorievich, and a great one," Oleg Novitsky answered.

"I will always support and will be happy to join Oleg Viktorovich in his flight missions," Marina Vasilevskaya added.

The president also asked what language Oleg Novitsky and Marina Vasilevskaya spoke with Tracy Dyson. “Mostly a mixture of Russian and English,” said the crew commander.

Answering the president’s clarifying question whether the NASA astronaut knew Russian, Oleg Novitsky said: “Her Russian is not bad. The same as our English.”

Thus, the crew members have no problems with communication, especially with technical language. “I hope that during the 12 days of the joint flight we will teach her some Belarusian phrases,” added the crew commander.

Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that people in Belarus are very anxious about the cosmonauts and Marina Vasilevskaya in particular. “Thank you. I will try my best to complete the entire program. I will not sleep, but I will do everything,” Marina Vasilevskaya responded.

“Sleeping is a must,” the crew commander remarked in a serious tone.

“No, don’t strain yourself too much. Sleep and have some rest,” advised Aleksandr Lukashenko. “You must experience everything. You must know everything. Because people will ask you.”

The head of state was assured that there were no problems, that preparations for the flight were proceeding normally, in accordance with the plan.

“We will be glad if everything goes as planned. We will be looking forward to seeing you again. I want to reiterate: Oleg, take care of her there in space. She is a newcomer. Our girls are beautiful. Americans will certainly have their eyes on them,” the head of state remarked half-jokingly.

“They should not even think of it,” Oleg Novitsky responded.

Marina Vasilevskaya once again thanked the president for the honor to represent the country in the ISS during the upcoming mission that is going to be very important and incredibly interesting: “I will do my best to complete all the work, all the tasks assigned to me.”

“Thank you very much. Sorry for distracting you at these crucial moments. But at least you could have a little break from this colossus [the rocket] that we saw - they were taking it to the launch site. You needed some respite. You should know that you are our people. We will be waiting for you here in Belarus,” the head of state said.

“We know this, Aleksandr Grigorievich. And therefore, we have never doubted that we will complete the entire mission successfully. Thank you very much for supporting the entire crew,” said Oleg Novitsky.

Before ending the conversation, the president remarked: “Thank you. See you soon! Marina, keep your cool. Look at Oleg.”

“Yes, the commander really supports me, absolutely. Therefore, my spirit is strong, and I am ready to fly. Everything will be fine. With God’s help,” answered Marina Vasilevskaya.

“Thank you. You will be close to Him there, so say hello. I also asked Him to be nice to you there. Therefore, good luck and all the best to you,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.