Next U.S. as­tro­naut on Rus­sian rocket con­fi­dent af­ter mishaps

The Western Star - - SCIENCE - BY MAR­CIA DUNN

A U.S. as­tro­naut said Fri­day she has no qualms about rid­ing a Rus­sian rocket next month de­spite back-to-back mishaps.

Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain said space­flight is never 100 per cent safe and it’s co­in­ci­den­tal that the last two Soyuz mis­sions to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion en­coun­tered trou­ble.

Last month, as­tro­nauts had to make an emer­gency land­ing in Kaza­khstan fol­low­ing a failed launch. A month ear­lier, a space sta­tion air leak was traced to a hole mys­te­ri­ously drilled into a docked Soyuz cap­sule. Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tors are still work­ing to un­der­stand how a rocket sen­sor ended up bent dur­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing and how the hole wound up in the Soyuz.

McClain is set to blast off Dec. 3 on her first space­flight, with a Rus­sian and Cana­dian. They will spend six months aboard the or­bit­ing lab.

The 39-year-old he­li­copter pi­lot, who has a young son, said her fam­ily is used to her risky work — she flew com­bat mis­sions in the mil­i­tary.

Her crew­mates, both men, also have chil­dren, she noted from train­ing quar­ters in Star City, Rus­sia.

“The hard­est part about this busi­ness is be­ing away from the kids,” she said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “But what I hope to teach him — and what I hope to teach all kids that are kind of look­ing at this — is that to achieve any­thing, it takes a lot of sac­ri­fice.”

Her own dream of be­com­ing an as­tro­naut goes back to her preschool days in Spokane, Wash. NASA chose her in 2013.

McClain said she views the Oct. 11 launch ac­ci­dent as “a suc­cess story,” given that the abort sys­tem saved her friends’ lives. She was back home in Hous­ton, watch­ing the flight and lis­ten­ing to the as­tro­nauts’ ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“The crew was lucky. But ev­ery crew that makes it to or­bit is lucky. Space­flight’s not easy,” she said.

The Amer­i­can on the aborted flight, Nick Hague, gave her “the in­side scoop” when he got back to Hous­ton.

Hague and Rus­sian Alexei Ov­chinin have been promised an­other shot at space, pos­si­bly next year. But McClain said she’s un­cer­tain whether they will ar­rive be­fore her own mis­sion ends in June.

Since the ac­ci­dent, three Soyuz rock­ets have launched suc­cess­fully with satel­lites. One more Soyuz flight is planned be­fore McClain’s launch, this one car­ry­ing sup­plies for the space sta­tion.

Her own rocket has been in­spected for any de­for­mi­ties. She’s so con­fi­dent in the rocket and its decades-long his­tory of suc­cesses that she said she would have climbed aboard the Soyuz to fly the day af­ter the ac­ci­dent.

The launch abort was the first in 35 years for Rus­sia’s hu­man space­flight pro­gram and only the third one ever.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials have moved up McClain’s flight by a few weeks so she, Cana­dian David Saint-Jac­ques and Rus­sian Oleg Kononenko can spend enough time with the cur­rent three sta­tion res­i­dents, an Amer­i­can, Ger­man and Rus­sian due to re­turn to Earth on Dec. 20. The two Rus­sians plan a space­walk dur­ing their shared time to sur­vey the punc­tured Soyuz from the out­side. A makeshift patch is keep­ing the space­craft air­tight.

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