Nick Hague Jokes He Knew His First Spaceflight Would be Memorable, But Not This Memorable

Nick Hague Jokes He Knew His First Spaceflight Would be Memorable, But Not This Memorable

NASA astronaut Nick Hague is back at Johnson Space Center and giving interviews with broadcast media on what it was like when his Soyuz rocket malfunctioned on the way to space.  He joked that he imagined his first spaceflight would be memorable, but “not quite this memorable.”  More seriously, he praised the robust Soyuz rocket design and the engineers that built it so he and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin landed safely and are ready to fly again.

Hague and Ovchinin lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome last Thursday on time at 4:40 am Eastern Daylight Time enroute to the International Space Station (ISS).  Two minutes and 45 seconds later, the Soyuz FG rocket malfunctioned.  Automated systems immediately separated the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft in which they were riding from the rocket and the two landed safely 34 minutes later.  Investigations are still underway, but officials at Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, concluded that the first stage and second stage collided when the two separated.  They still do not know why.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague answering questions about his aborted launch. Screengrab from NASA TV, Oct. 16, 2018

In a series of interviews with various media today, Hague was asked what it felt like, what was going through his mind, and how he feels about it now.

While joking about how memorable the experience was, he also pointed out that as former Air Force pilot this was not his first in-flight emergency.  He added that he and Ovchinin were very well trained to deal with any type of anomaly that might occur during launch.

“Training really takes over” and the key is to remain calm and “execute the procedures as a team.”

He became aware of the problem when “we were ripped away from the rocket. We had an alarm inside the capsule and we had an emergency light come on” and at that moment “it was a pretty crystal clear realization that we weren’t going to make it orbit that day.”  They pulled about 7 Gs, but he said that is not all that much higher than a normal Soyuz reentry, 5 Gs, and was for a very short amount of time.

He laughed that after they landed, he and Ovchinin used a satellite phone to call their loved ones, but when he called his wife, who was back at Baikonur, it went to voicemail.  He and Ovchinin were flown back to Baikonur after they were recovered by rescue teams.  He said it was great when he and his wife got to hug each other after the airplane landed, adding that she is also a 20-year Air Force veteran (as a public affairs officer) and experienced in dealing with flight anomalies.

He noted that it has been 35 years since the Soyuz abort system was needed and expressed gratitude to the designers and engineers that it worked perfectly.  Two prior Soyuz launches were aborted:  Soyuz 18A (or the April 5th Anomaly) in 1975 and Soyuz T-10 in 1983.  The Soyuz 18A failure was a problem with the third stage and the crew landed much further from the launch site, close to the Chinese border. The Soyuz T-10 abort happened at the launch pad when the rocket caught fire.

As for the future, while he’s not sure when he’ll get another chance, “I’m ready to fly.”

Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin said shortly after the aborted launch that “the boys” indeed would get to fly again, probably in the spring.  ISS crews typically rotate every 4-6 months.  The next ISS crew is scheduled to launch in December and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Friday that he has “no reason to believe at this point it will not be on schedule.”  That will take a Russian, an American and a Canadian to the ISS.

The next flight after that is scheduled for April although a crew already has been assigned — a Russian, an American, and the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a “tourist.” Russia’s news agency Tass reported yesterday that the UAE astronaut will not fly on that mission, however, because the MS-10 spacecraft was the one intended to bring him back to Earth after a brief stay aboard the ISS.


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