NASA astronaut still confident in Soyuz after launch abort

by

WASHINGTON — The NASA astronaut who was on the aborted Soyuz mission to the International Space Station says he has “complete confidence” in the Russians despite this launch failure and other problems, and looks forward to flying again on the spacecraft.

In his first public interviews since the aborted flight of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft Oct. 11, Nick Hague described the “one wild ride” he had on that flight, which he said reinforced his belief that the spacecraft is safe.

“In terms of whether I have second thoughts about the Soyuz, this has only helped to solidify my appreciation for how robust that system is,” he said during a series of interviews Oct. 16 with preselected media broadcast on NASA TV. During the interviews he expressed thanks multiple times to the thousands of people who work on the Soyuz spacecraft, in particular its launch escape system that pulled the spacecraft from its launch vehicle during last week’s accident.

Neither that accident nor the discovery in August of a small hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft currently docked to the International Space Station, both of which are under investigation by the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, have shaken Hague’s confidence in the spacecraft. “I have no reason to doubt their ability to find solutions to these problems,” he said. “I’ve got complete confidence in them being able to deliver.”

Hague said that nothing appeared to be amiss with the launch for the first two minutes after the Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. “It was right after the first staging, when the boosters started to separate, it went from ‘normal’ to ‘something was wrong’ pretty quick,” he recalled.

The automated abort system for the Soyuz spacecraft activated and pulled the spacecraft away from the booster, he said, so that he and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin were “shaken fairly violently, side to side” for a moment as the abort motors burned. Only after the abort system pulled the Soyuz away, he said, did warning lights indicating a booster failure turn on in the capsule.

At that moment, he recalled, “it was a pretty crystal-clear realization that we weren’t going to make it to orbit that day.”

For the rest of the suborbital flight of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft, Hague said he focused on carrying out the procedures for such an abort that he and Ovchinin had trained for. “What kicks in is the training,” he said. “The thing that I can do to help us get down on the ground as safe as possible is try to stay as calm and as focused as I can, and do the things that I need to do to make us be successful.”

While this was his first spaceflight, he noted he’s had experience in other emergency situations. “It’s not the first high-pressure situation that I’ve been in. I think that’s something that my background has helped prepare me for this moment,” said Hague, a U.S. Air Force pilot whose career included flying combat missions in Iraq.

Only after the capsule landed safely in the Kazakh steppes downrange from Baikonur was he able to “take a deep breath” and reflect on the experience. He and Ovchinin were also finally able to relax, despite being upside down inside the capsule. “We had grins from ear to ear,” he said. “He holds out a hand, I shake his hand, and then we start cracking a few jokes between us about how short our flight was.”

Hague said he was still interested in going to the ISS and expected a flight opportunity, but no decisions have been made about when that would take place. Russian officials have suggested that Hague and Ovchinin could fly as soon as next spring.

For now, he said he’s taking time off to spend with his family, talking with them about the experience and his future plans. He said he expected an assignment from NASA’s Astronaut Office next week on near-term work pending a new mission to the station.

“I really don’t have any clue” about when he might get another trip to the station, he said. “I feel really fortunate to be able to walk away from an incident like that with barely a bump or a bruise. I feel in good shape and I’m ready to get back in it, so I’m here and ready to go when I’m called upon.”