As­tro­naut ready to blast off in Fe­bru­ary

NASA flight engi­neer con­fi­dent in Rus­sia’s sys­tems af­ter failed mis­sion to ISS this fall

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Alex Stuckey STAFF WRITER

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-

tem.”

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.

Dmitri Lovet­sky / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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