This article originally appeared in the October 22, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
Nick Hague believed he knew what to expect on his first space flight – until the unexpected happened.
"The first two minutes was a smooth ride, and it was everything I expected," he said in a series of interviews on October 16, five days after launch. "It went pretty fast from" normal "to" something was wrong. "
About two minutes after the launch of the Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, his Soyuz rocket actually went awry with the launching system for the Soyuz MS spacecraft. With the Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, the spacecraft immediately pulled away from the damaged rocket, and it happened so quickly that The Hague had the booster problem b Recognized after the spaceship was safe.
"The first thing I really noticed was being shaken violently from side to side, the rocket," he said, "then there was an alarm in the capsule, and there was a light up there. I knew that as soon as I saw this light, we knew we had an emergency with the booster, and at that point we would not be able to get into orbit that day.
Haag and Ovchinin turned to their training, including simulations, to break down the Soyuz and make a safe landing near the city of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhastan. "We had grin from ear to ear "Haag recalls," He reaches out a hand, I shake his hand, and then we start making some jokes between us about how short our flight was. "
Investigation and Consequences
The Consequences of the accident, however, are no laughing matter.Roskosmos, the Russian state space company, immediately set up a state commission to investigate the accident.The speculation focuses on one of the four strap-on booster, which may not be clean from the rocket This could have triggered a shutdown of the second-stage engine, which resulted in a crash.
Russian officials have promised to stop the accident ll quickly investigate with Sergei Krikalev, the former cosmonaut who directs the human space flight program of Roscosmos, one day after the launch failure these first results of the investigation could be published already on October 20. Russian media reports have suggested that the introduction of Soyuz with crew members could resume in late November or early December, even though Roskosmos has not made a formal announcement.
For now The only means of sending crews to the International Space Station is well founded. "Obviously, from a Russian perspective, this is a high priority to try to understand what has happened," said Kenny Todd, ISS Operations Integration Manager, during a press conference on the day of the accident. "They will spend a lot of resources on understanding exactly what happened."
The Hague and Ovchinin were to be joined by the three current members of the station: Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA, Serena Auñón – Chancellor of NASA and Sergey Prokopyev of Roskosmos. The three who arrived at the ISS in early June should return to Earth in December.
If the Soyuz stays aground in December, the three can stay on the ISS a bit longer, but not much: the Soyuz spacecraft will only be evaluated in space for about 200 days, based on spacecraft component capability tests to deal with the space environment. The current Soyuz at the gas station, Soyuz MS09, would exceed this limit by the end of December. "There's a bit of margin" in this life, Todd said, "but not a whole lot of margin."
This carries the danger of what NASA calls the station "de-crewing": leaving the ISS vacant for the first time in more than 18 years. This could endanger the station if there is a problem there without astronauts on board to fix the problem.
Todd downplayed these concerns. "I am very confident that we can fly long without a crew," he said. "There is nothing that says that we can not just continue to drill holes in the sky and carry out a minimum of orders, I am not so worried about it."
However, he made it clear that it was not desirable to have the Station without crew to leave on board. "We'll look at what we have to make sure we do not have to leave the station," he said.
Another concern is the work that the crew of the station can carry on board with just three people. NASA has postponed a few spacewalks scheduled for late October to replace the batteries in the station's power system, as Hague was one of the astronauts they were to perform. Roscosmos has also postponed a November spacewalk to investigate the exterior of the Soyuz MS-09 module, which leaked in August from a small hole whose cause is still under investigation.
A smaller crew at the station also means less time to perform experiments. Prior to the accident, NASA reported the usage was slightly higher than expected, said Susan Helms, a former astronaut who participates on the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) during a meeting the same day as the Soyuz accident. 19659003] Plans for future research need to be re-examined, she said and probably declined. "That's obvious to the rescheduling because it depended on having five crew members on board and what those crew members would do," she said.
One of the largest users of the ISS is NanoRacks, the company that provides commercial access to the ISS for in-house experiments and satellite launches. "We rely heavily on the crew," said Mike Lewis, NanoRacks' Chief Technology Officer. "We are well aware that many of our experiments and those of other payload developers may need to be re-evaluated."
One salvation, he said, is that the company has taken steps to automate many of its payloads. "We've been doing a lot of automation work recently and doing things that we can control from the ground," he said. About half of the payloads it flies can be controlled from a control room in a NanoRacks facility in Houston
Commercial Crew Corps
The reason that the SOYUZ accident so severely affects ISS operations is, that this is the only way to get people to and from the station. NASA had once hoped that this would no longer be the case thanks to the commercial crew vehicles developed by Boeing and SpaceX. However, the timetables for these vehicles have dropped significantly in recent years.
One week before the accident, NASA released the latest flight schedules for the two companies' test flights. SpaceX Crew Dragon is scheduled for an unmanned flight to the station in January, followed by a crewed test in June. This data is two months later than the previous timetable published two months earlier. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner is now scheduled for an unmanned test flight in March and a manned flight in August.
As soon as possible in the hours following the Soyuz accident, the new schedules were also unrealistic and the agency concerned about a gap in ISS access could try to shorten and accelerate the development of these vehicles.
"The Panel believes that an excessively limited timetable is caused and possibly exacerbated by an actual or perceived gap in astronaut transport to the International Space Station. Morning events harbor the risk that good technical design solutions could be replaced, critical program content delayed or delayed could be deleted and decisions on "good enough to continue" could be made with inadequate data, "said panel chairman Patricia Sanders that there was no evidence to date for NASA decisions that" compromise security. "
Manager of commercial crew programs at the two companies, speaking at the Internatonal Symposium on Personal and Commercial Space later that same day, said that while they were looking for ways to speed up work on their vehicles, if necessary, safety remained in the first place.
"You have to do the same job, you have to do the right job," said Benji Reed, Head of Mission Management at SpaceX. "The question is, is there any way to compress this schedule? You do not look at cutting out work."
"We're looking at it, could I work extra shifts or put extra people on it? "Said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for commercial programs at Boeing Space Exploration Unit. "It never occurred to us to think what you could not do, what scope you can reduce."
Ready to Fly
At a press conference on October 12 in Moscow, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sounded optimistic that Soyuz would do so flying close to his original schedule again and avoid the worst-case scenarios about the future the ISS.
"I expect at this point that we will fly again with a Russian Soyuz rocket," he said, "and I have. There is no reason to believe that it will not be on schedule."
Bridenstine praised NASA employees and their Russian colleagues for their work in the moments following the accident. "I have so much faith in this relationship, I have so much faith in the NASA team," he said.
Hague made similar comments in his interviews. "In terms of whether I think about the Soyuz, this has only helped to cement my appreciation for the robustness of this system," he said, thanking the staff who have built the Soyuz system and in particular its launch abatement system several times  For the time being, Haag is back in Houston with his family and soon expects a short-term assignment from the NASA Astronaut Office. No decision was made as to when he might get another chance to go to the station, but Russian officials said he and Ovchinin could fly next spring.
"I have no idea what's in store for me, but I can say I'm ready to go 100 percent," he said when asked if he wanted to fly back to the ISS on the Soyuz ,
"I'm so grateful I live and kick today," he added.