Rus­sian rocket fail­ure raises ques­tions for Cana­dian as­tro­naut


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.”

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