Crew of aborted Soyuz launch ready to fly again on Soyuz MS-12
Five months after their harrowing abort during the October 2018 launch of Soyuz MS-10, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin are about to get a second chance to fly to the International Space Station.
The two are scheduled to launch, this time alongside NASA astronaut Christina Koch, on the Soyuz MS-12 mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14, 2019.
The crew is scheduled to take the expedited 6-hour, 4-orbit journey to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, where they will join NASA astronaut Anne McClain, station commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency.
ISS Expedition 59 will begin upon docking of Soyuz MS-12, restoring the outpost to a 6-person crew. Ovchinin is set to become commander of Expedition 60 aboard the station later this year.
If at first you don’t succeed
On Oct. 11, 2018, Hague and Ovchinin experienced an emergency abort on their Soyuz MS-10 mission about two minutes after launch when one of the first stage boosters on their Soyuz-FG launch vehicle failed to separate properly from the second stage. The failure tripped sensors that automatically triggered an emergency abort, shooting the Soyuz spacecraft away from the damaged launch vehicle.
The two men endured a ballistic reentry and landed safely downrange in Kazakhstan. In a bit of good luck, their abort trajectory had carried them to a landing not far from the town where recovery forces were staged for normally-scheduled Soyuz recovery operations. Hague and Ovchinin landed just under 20 minutes after leaving the launch pad.
Upon their return to Baikonur for medical examinations, which fortunately showed no ill effects from their stressful adventure, they returned to their respective space agencies for more rounds of checkouts and debriefings. Hague and Ovchinin then awaited word of when or what their next assignments might be.
There was also the matter of the rocket.
Investigations quickly identified the cause of the accident as a malfunction with the booster separation mechanism. During the rest of October and November, a pair of successful Soyuz military launches and a third Soyuz cargo launch effectively re-certified the rocket for human flight.
On Dec. 3, 2018, Soyuz MS-11 launched successfully from Baikonur, taking Kononenko, McClain, and Saint-Jacques to the ISS.
As the MS-11 mission was gearing up for launch, some inter-agency musical chairs with mission assignments shuffled the schedule to get Hague and Ovchinin back into the Soyuz for the next flight. Shortly after MS-11’s launch, it was officially announced that Hague and Ovchinin were assigned to Soyuz MS-12, along with Koch.
Koch was part of the originally assigned crew of MS-12. A combination of factors in scheduling and potential crew rotation plans determined that she would retain her place on MS-12 to fly with Ovchinin and Hague.
Hague and Koch are both part of the 2013 astronaut class. McClain, currently on the ISS, was the first of that class to go into space.
Hague and Koch flew from Houston to the Star City training facility outside of Moscow in February for their final training and certification on the Soyuz spacecraft. Following those certifications the crew boarded a plane for Baikonur, where they arrived on Feb. 26.
Hague, Koch, and Ovchinin did suit checks on their Sokol launch and reentry suits, and for the first time crawled into the flight cockpit of their Soyuz spacecraft for fit checks and a first look at the actual ship that would carry them into space.
Expedition 59 and beyond
The two astronauts and cosmonaut are now in quarantine in the days before their flight. But before the crew departed for Baikonur, Spaceflight Insider had a chance to briefly chat with astronaut Hague about the quick turnaround from his aborted flight, and some of the changes in training for his upcoming mission.
“There were definitely some changes,” Hague told Spaceflight Insider from the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, “but there were still some things that are carryover. For example something that is still waiting to be done, when I launched back in October, we were going to do some EVAs very quickly after arriving on the space station.”
Hague said those extravehicular activities still remain to be done and will be one of the items they will try to “knock out” as soon as they arrive at the outpost.
“So that is some of the training that has carried along,” Hague said. “Obviously you maintain proficiencies, so I’ve been back in the NBL, training to do a spacewalk in the neutral buoyancy lab.”
Hague is currently scheduled to do two 6.5-hour spacewalks, one with McClain and another with Saint-Jacques. In between those spacewalks is another planned for McClain and Koch, which would be the first all-female spacewalk ever conducted.
The Hague-McClain spacewalk is planned for March 22 while the McClain-Koch EVA is expected on March 29. Afterword, the Hague-Saint-Jacques outing is planned for April 8.
For the first spacewalk, Hague and McClain are set to exit from the Quest airlock and go about their task of installing new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s P4 truss 4A power channel and the 2A power channel.
“Some of the science experiments on the schedule are new,” Hague said. “But some of the experiments are going to continue to follow me because I’m the subject in the experiment, and so those will continue.”
Hague said some of these experiments are designed to look at how fluids and pressures shift in the body while in orbit, causing changes in vision or in human performance, while others are looking at how human cognitive abilities change and how the brain develops 3D mental maps in the absence of a gravity vector to tell which way is “down.”
“Although much of the science we do up there, about two thirds of it, we never see until we get to orbit because the training team prepares us with general skills to be able to perform those experiments,” Hague said. “So there is a lot of stuff waiting for us to do.”
Hague was asked, half seriously, in the quick turnaround from his aborted flight if he was given a shiny new spacesuit or if his old one was waiting for him in the closet.
“They have been able to salvage a lot of the equipment,” Hague said. “Luckily the experience that we went through as part of that launch abort was not as violent as it could have been. It allowed us to land relatively, all things being equal, in a fairly benign 8 g or 6-and-a-half g [8 times the force of gravity or 6.5 times the force of gravity] reentry, so it is something that didn’t break a whole lot of equipment. If you look at our capsule or pictures of our capsule it almost looks like a brand new Soyuz descent capsule. So they were able to recycle a whole lot of the equipment.”
After his launch abort experience, Hague was fully evaluated by NASA teams, both medically and psychologically.
“The psychological support is there,” Hague said, “whether you’ve had an abort or not. At least up to the launch for every crew, and after. So that team is there and they provided the amazing services that they provided for me and for every astronaut.”
Mission extension in the works?
Some uncertainty exists as to how long Hague and his crew may spend on the ISS. Dates have been announced, but some rumors of changes circulate through unofficial channels.
“Christina and Aleksey and I are going to launch on March 14, and our landing is scheduled for the 3rd of October,” Hague said. “It’s a 204-day mission.”
Hague did say, however, that he was aware of some of the talk about potentially extending his or others’ stay aboard the outpost.
“What we know now is that we’re launching on the 14th of March and we’ll see how the rest of the year unfolds,” Hague said. “I know that there are changes ahead.”
Flexibility will be key moving forward as the schedule for the ISS is likely to be fluid for the next several months.
Arrival dates for the first crewed spacecraft from SpaceX and Boeing in the Commercial Crew Program are slipping to later in the summer or into the fall. Additionally, Roscosmos wants to fly the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates, Hazza Al Mansouri, to the ISS this year, most likely on Soyuz MS-15.
Al Mansouri is training for a short stay of a couple weeks on the station, and the schedule for his return flight could effect the length of the ISS stay for either Hague, Koch, Ovchinin, or possibly another crew ISS crew member.
The Soyuz MS-12 crew and its backup conduct an inspection of the spacecraft and rocket. Video courtesy of Roscosmos
Michael Cole is a life-long space flight enthusiast and author of some 36 educational books on space flight and astronomy for Enslow Publishers. He lives in Findlay, Ohio, not far from Neil Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta. His interest in space, and his background in journalism and public relations suit him for his focus on research and development activities at NASA Glenn Research Center, and its Plum Brook Station testing facility, both in northeastern Ohio. Cole reached out to SpaceFlight Insider and asked to join SFI as the first member of the organization’s “Team Glenn.”