Astronaut ready to blast off in February
NASA flight engineer confident in Russia’s systems after failed mission to ISS this fall
NASA astronaut Nick Hague has spent the last two months trying to explain to his two young boys what happened on that fateful day in October when the spacecraft transporting him to the International Space Station was forced to make an emergency landing.
And now, he’ll spent the next several months explaining why he plans to go back in February.
“From the moment I got back and was able to give them that first hug, this has been an ongoing conversation of trying to explain to them what happened and why I was able to survive it,” Hague said Friday during an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “But even more, I was trying to explain to them the risks, but why we take these chances: The work we’re doing on the space station is for the good of humanity.”
On Oct. 11, the world watched as Hague and his crewmate, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, were robbed of their chance to live on the space station after the Soyuz spacecraft transporting them there had to abort its launch when a rocket booster failed.
It was unclear for some time when, if ever, Hague would get another chance to fly. But after NASA astronaut Anne McClain and her crew mates made it to the space station safely Monday — the first crewed mission since the aborted launch — the space agency announced that Hague and Ovchinin would get another shot Feb. 28.
“I’m excited about it. I’m 100 percent ready to go,” Hague said. “I’m happy to get to the point where I’ve fulfilled my mission.”
The October abort was Russia’s first in 35 years, and many officials deemed it a success because both Hague and Ovchinin were safe and in good condition. But it made some space experts question whether Russia’s space program was up to snuff, especially because it followed the discovery of a hole that caused an air leak in a different Soyuz docked to the space station in late August.
But Hague said Friday he isn’t worried. If anything, he’s more confident than ever.
“Obviously when you’re 30 miles up going 4,000 miles an hour and the rocket comes apart underneath you, that’s cutting it as close as you can, and we were fortunate to come out of that as well as we did,” he said. “But that safety net worked flawlessly and it gives you a sense of confidence in the overall ability of the sys-
In February, Hague and Ovchinin will be joined by American astronaut Christina Hammock Koch, a member of the 2013 astronaut class who initially was scheduled to fly in April. Hague is also a member of the 2013 class.
Russian officials in November announced that the failed launch was the result of a malfunctioning sensor, which caused the first and second stages of the rocket launching the Soyuz to crash into each other, breaking the second stage and forcing an emergency landing.
The sensor was damaged, Russian officials said, during the rocket’s assembly at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the Soyuz is launched.
There is still no explanation on what caused the hole in the space station, but the Russians will conduct a spacewalk on Tuesday to look at the Soyuz’s exterior. In the meantime, the patch put in place by the crew still is holding.
NASA has relied on Russia to transport its astronauts to the space station since 2011, when the space shuttle program was shuttered. Commercial vehicles being built by SpaceX and Boeing are meant to alleviate that reliance, but those programs remain behind schedule.
The current crew on the station — NASA’s Serena AuñónChancellor, European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev — arrived in June and are scheduled to return to Earth on Dec. 20.
Though NASA and Russian officials have not yet determined when Hague will return from the space station, Hague told the Chronicle that his family is ready.
“If my family wasn’t ready, then I wouldn’t be ready,” Hague said. His wife, Catie, is in the Air Force and “is not a stranger to risky situations. She knew going into that first launch that every launch has risk.”
Their boys, ages 8 and 11, were in Kazakhstan for the failed launch in October. They won’t be making the trip this time, however, Hague said.
“They missed two weeks of school in the fall” by coming to the launch, he said. “Doing it in the spring might have adverse impacts. They’ll watch here from Houston.”
Astronaut Nick Hague will get one more chance to live on the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague waves to his son from a bus prior to the failed launch of a Soyuz rocket on Oct. 11 in Kazakhstan.