Rus­sian rocket fail­ure raises ques­tions for Cana­dian as­tro­naut Saint-jac­ques

North Bay Nugget - - NATIONAL NEWS - Sid­hartha Ban­er­jee and Giuseppe Valiante

MON­TREAL — Cana­dian as­tro­naut David Saint-jac­ques’ sched­uled space voy­age in De­cem­ber is in doubt fol­low­ing a rocket fail­ure Thurs­day that forced a Soyuz cap­sule with two as­tro­nauts on board to make an emer­gency land­ing, Cana­dian of­fi­cials say.

Rus­sia an­nounced Thurs­day it was sus­pend­ing manned space launches pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what hap­pened when the Soyuz cap­sule trans­port­ing NASA as­tro­naut Nick Hague and Roscos­mos’ Alexei Ov­chinin au­to­mat­i­cally jet­ti­soned from the booster.

U.S. and Rus­sian space of­fi­cials said Hague and Ov­chinin were safe af­ter a rocket failed two min­utes into their flight to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, forc­ing an emer­gency land­ing on the steppes of cen­tral Kaza­khstan.

Saint-jac­ques, 48, of St-lam­bert, Que. was part of the backup crew for Thurs­day’s failed space flight and was on site for the launch.

He is sched­uled to be aboard a Dec. 20 launch to the space sta­tion from the Rus­sia-leased Baikonur cos­mod­rome in Kaza­khstan, in what would be his first trip to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

Re­tired Cana­dian As­tro­naut Chris Had­field said Thurs­day that if the rocket prob­lem was sim­ple and di­ag­nos­able, Saint-jac­ques could be up in space “not too far away from the time they were plan­ning.

“But if it’s a com­pli­cated prob­lem — and rocket fail­ures are al­most al­ways com­pli­cated prob­lems — it will take longer for them to sort out what it was; so it could be many months,” Had­field said dur­ing a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion he hosted on Twit­ter.

Had­field said the three as­tro­nauts cur­rently liv­ing on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion “are ba­si­cally marooned there — in­def­i­nitely at this point, un­til we can get an­other ve­hi­cle out there.”

Former Cana­dian as­tro­naut Robert thirsk was the first cana­dian to fly on a Soyuz cap­sule, when he trav­elled to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion in 2009 for a six-month mis­sion.

He said in an in­ter­view that de­pend­ing on the cause of the rocket fail­ure, the rem­edy might be some­thing that could be im­ple­mented in days.

But the Soyuz cap­sule des­tined for Saint-jac­ques’s trip in De­cem­ber is cur­rently be­ing as­sem­bled, Thirsk said — and if that ve­hi­cle is sim­i­larly af­fected to the one that failed on Thurs­day, “then no, we aren’t go­ing to launch in two months.

“It will be months away (fol­low­ing) the corrections that need to be put in place.”

Rus­sian Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Yuri Borisov told re­porters the Soyuz cap­sule au­to­mat­i­cally jet­ti­soned from the booster when it failed.

He said all manned launches will be sus­pended pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the fail­ure, adding that Rus­sia will share all rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion with the United States.

Gilles Le­clerc, di­rec­tor gen­eral of space ex­plo­ration at the Cana­dian Space Agency, said the Rus­sians have a good track record of iden­ti­fy­ing and quickly re­solv­ing prob­lems.

“We’ll see if there’s an im­pact on the launch man­i­fest to the space sta­tion,” he said from the agency head­quar­ters in Longueuil, Que. “Right now, it’s wait-and-see for the Cana­dian Space Agency.”

Le­clerc said the plan re­mains “to launch David Saint-jac­ques as soon as pos­si­ble to the space sta­tion: con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments, do­ing sci­ence and be­ing the fig­ure­head of the hu­man space flight pro­gram for Canada.”

He added that Saint-jac­ques, who was trav­el­ling to Moscow on Thurs­day be­fore re­turn­ing home to Hous­ton, would not lose his spot on a launch in the event of any de­lays. Saint-jac­ques him­self was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

“Canada has a crew al­lo­ca­tion on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion — on flight ev­ery four years or there­abouts,” Le­clerc said. “There will be a Cana­dian fly­ing to the space sta­tion very soon.”

Thirsk said the crew in­side the Soyuz cap­sule likely weren’t feel­ing any fear when they no­ticed one of the rock­ets had failed.

“Fear would be put to the back of your mind,” he said. “We are trained to com­part­men­tal­ize. If you’re do­ing a de­mand­ing mis­sion, then you have to re­ally fo­cus on that task at hand and you don’t have time to think about in­jury or death or fam­ily.

“You just re­ally fo­cus on the next ac­tion you’re tak­ing.”

Le­clerc said as­tro­nauts train for all con­tin­gen­cies, in­clud­ing bal­lis­tic land­ings like the one on Thurs­day in which as­tro­nauts are sub­jected to heavy grav­i­ta­tional forces.

“It was a High-g ex­pe­ri­ence. Peo­ple who have gone through this type of in­ci­dent re­port it’s like a car crash,” he said. “But they ap­pear to be in good phys­i­cal shape.”

The space agen­cies said the as­tro­nauts were in good con­di­tion af­ter their cap­sule landed about 20 kilo­me­tres east of the city of Dzhezkaz­gan, Kaza­khstan.

“Thank God the crew is alive,” Dmitry Peskov, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told re­porters when it be­came clear the crew had landed safely.

With files from the

As­so­ci­ated Press.


Cana­dian as­tro­naut David Sain­tjac­ques of the Cana­dian Space Agency gets his hair cut, Tues­day, at the Cos­mo­naut Ho­tel in Baikonur, Kaza­khstan.

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