Astro­nauts were cool as booster failed at 4,700 mph, 50 km al­ti­tude

Waterloo Region Record - - Canada & World - VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

MOSCOW — NASA’s chief heard one re­as­sur­ing sound over the ra­dio link af­ter the aborted launch of a Soyuz cap­sule with an Amer­i­can and a Rus­sian aboard.

It was U.S. as­tro­naut Nick Hague calmly re­lay­ing in­for­ma­tion in Rus­sian to flight con­trollers.

“My re­ac­tion was, ‘Things aren’t go­ing well and he’s not speak­ing English,’” NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine told re­porters Fri­day, af­ter Hague and Roscos­mos’ Alexei Ov­chinin re­turned to the Star City train­ing cen­tre out­side Moscow from their abruptly short­ened mis­sion.

“So, in other words, he was calm, he was cool, he was col­lected, he was do­ing what he was trained to do,” said Bri­den­s­tine, who was at the Baikonur Cos­mod­rome to watch the launch.

Two min­utes af­ter Hague and Ov­chinin blasted off Thurs­day for the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, their rocket failed, trig­ger­ing an emer­gency land­ing. Their cap­sule fell from an al­ti­tude of about 50 kilo­me­tres at a sharperthan-nor­mal an­gle, build­ing up grav­i­ta­tional forces at 6-7 times those on Earth. It had been trav­el­ling about 4,700 mph.

It was the first such ac­ci­dent for Rus­sia’s manned pro­gram in over three decades, al­though there also have been launch fail­ures in re­cent years in­volv­ing un­manned ve­hi­cles.

Rus­sia has sus­pended manned space launches and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way, but Bri­den­s­tine said he doesn’t ex­pect the next mis­sion tak­ing a crew to the space sta­tion in De­cem­ber to be de­layed. That crew in­cludes Cana­dian as­tro­naut David Sain­tJac­ques.

Bri­den­s­tine re­called the tense mo­ment when he heard Hague re­port­ing the G-forces in Rus­sian to Mis­sion Con­trol, fol­lowed by a break in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the loss of flight data.

“There was the time when I heard 6.7G, and that was the first time I re­al­ized that’s not right,” he said. “And then of course data was lost, com­mu­ni­ca­tions was lost for a pe­riod of time, and then ev­ery­body went to their re­spec­tive cor­ners at­tempt­ing to find out what the truth is. And when we learned that the crew was safe and de­scend­ing it was a mo­ment to be­hold. A lot of peo­ple very, very happy.”

Hague’s calm voice showed he was well-trained for the emer­gency, al­though there was still a ner­vous at­mos­phere at Baikonur, Bri­den­s­tine said.

“That’s the scary mo­ment, you know, when you know that the Gs are not where they should be and then com­mu­ni­ca­tions stops and I’m sure that they are go­ing through their pro­ce­dures and do­ing their thing and the ques­tion is what’s the ul­ti­mate G-load ... and how does that af­fect the crew,” he said. “And dur­ing that time we weren’t get­ting a lot of feed­back, but again that’s ap­pro­pri­ate be­cause they were busy and we were OK with that.”

About 34 min­utes elapsed from the time the rocket failed to when the cap­sule fi­nally parachuted to a land­ing on the steppes of Kaza­khstan, where res­cue crews swiftly picked up the pair.

Bri­den­s­tine praised the Soyuz emer­gency res­cue sys­tem, say­ing it func­tioned like a “mir­a­cle.”

“Even when a fail­ure oc­curs, be­cause of the engi­neer­ing and the de­sign and the great work done by folks in Rus­sia, the crew can be safe,” he said. “That’s an amaz­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and we can’t un­der­state how im­por­tant it is. Not ev­ery mis­sion that fails ends up so suc­cess­fully.”

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