KAZAKHSTAN (CBS4)– A NASA astronaut who graduated from the Air Force Academy says he’s lucky to be alive after an emergency landing shortly after launching for the International Space Station.
Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin survived an emergency landing after a booster failure on a Russian Soyuz rocket last Thursday.
“I imagined that my first trip to outer space was going to be a memorable one. I didn’t expect it would be quite this memorable,” said Hague.
The rocket was transporting Hague and Ovchinin from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-month stay on the International Space Station.
“It went from normal to something was wrong pretty quick,” said Hague.
NASA currently depends on Russian Soyuz launch systems to ferry crew members to the station.
A strap-on booster apparently crashed into the side of the rocket’s central booster and burst into a cloud of debris. The automatic abort system detected trouble and threw the crew’s capsule up and away.
“The first thing I noticed was being shaken fairly violently side to side as that safety system pulled us away from the rocket,” said Hague. “You’re a little bit startled. And then I saw the booster failure light inside the capsule. And at that point I realized hey we’re not going to make it to orbit today. And then your training kicks in and you’re… you’re ready to respond, so Alexi and I changed gears.”
Search-and-rescue teams responded quickly to retrieve the crew members, whose spacecraft parachuted to Earth in an emergency landing in Kazakhstan.
Dramatic footage showed the capsule carrying the crew thumping down in a plume of dust, minutes after it launched.
“There was a point where I looked out the window and I saw the curve of the Earth out there and the blackness of space and it was a bittersweet, fleeting moment knowing I got that close,” said Hague. “You know, what can you do? Sometimes you don’t get a vote.”
The rocket had lifted off on a journey that was expected to involve four orbits of the Earth and take six hours.
“I’ve got to tell you, when we finally got to hug each other coming down off the plane, it was a bit of a release for both of us, the emotions we had kind of been holding back just to stay focused on the situation. As for the boys, my youngest, God bless him, he looks at me and he goes, ‘Dad, when are you going back to space?’,” said Hague.