After returning to the United States following last week’s aborted launch of a Soyuz-FG rocket, NASA astronaut Nick Hague shared the details of the incident to the Associated Press in an interview. The astronaut described what actually happened after failure of Soyuz rocket forced the capsule to fly away from the failing rocket at speeds reaching 4,000 miles per hour.
On October 11, 2018, NASA astronaut Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin were launched from the Baikonur spaceport in southern Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket on a mission to the International Space Station. Everything was appearing normal after the launched, but about two minutes into the flight, things started to go very wrong. According to the Russian Space Agency, when the Soyuz rocket was about 50 kilometers (31 miles) above the Earth’s surface, one of the rocket’s four strap-on boosters failed to jettison, thus creating a problem with the separation of first and second stage booster rockets. The problem damaged the main stage and forced the capsule to make a dangerous “ballistic re-entry” into Earth’s atmosphere.
“Right around the first stage separation everything went a little awry,” Hague said.
“We were tossed back and forth inside the capsule a little bit and thrusted away from the rocket as soon as the launch-abort system had recognized there was a problem with the booster.”
Hague, 43, and who is now in Houston said he knew he needed to stay calm in this situation. The failure triggered the emergency landing, and the capsule was “ripped away” from the Soyuz rocket.
“We had an alarm inside the capsule and we had an emergency light come on that said that we had had a problem with the booster,” the US Air Force colonel said.
Hague, who was making his first trip to space, said they soon realized that they weren’t going to make it to orbit that day. It was little surprising as it was first such failure in 35 years.
“I just remember it being this very poignant realization that ‘Wow, we just had a failure of the booster!’” Hague said.
The astronaut revealed that during astronaut training program, they are taught to deal with such situations. Hague also received training in Star City, Russia, inside a descent module in last two years.
During ballistic re-entry, the spacecraft is slowed down using atmospheric drag, exposing crewmembers to G-forces up to 10 times great than those on Earth. During capsule descent, the astronauts endured six Gs. The capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 30 minutes after the rocket failure.
Hague revealed that the capsule did not experience any extreme temperatures during descent.
“We were going slow enough, our energy was low enough, that it was really just aerodynamic drag that slowed us down.”
However, he did feel pressure changes during the capsule’s descent.
After touching down safely on a plain in Kazakhstan, they immediately called Mission Control, followed by their wives.
Russia cosmonaut Ovchinin told journalists that he never saw even a hint of fear in Hague’s eyes. According to Ovchinin, Hague responded “immediately to all questions from the Earth… it was obvious that he was in total control of the [emergency] situation.”
“My partner Nick acted as a true expert and was completely coolheaded.”
Hague says he is keen to go to space now.
“Personally, I feel like this is just another event that has happened that is going to help shape me and make me a more effective crew member in the future. Alexei and I, as a crew, we have experienced this together and that’s only going to make us a stronger crew in the future.”