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U.S. Astronaut Praises 'Robust' Soyuz Escape System After Aborted Launch

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Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin (center) poses with Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin (left) and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague after their emergency landing.

A U.S. astronaut who was on board an aborted launch of a Soyuz rocket into space last week said he still trusts the Russian technology and is ready to go back into space on another Soyuz mission.

"When NASA wants me to fly, I'm ready to go," Nick Hague told reporters on October 16, five days after enduring a harrowing emergency landing back to Earth along with Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin after the failure of the Soyuz rocket from causes that are under investigation.

Currently, Russia's Soyuz rocket is the only vehicle capable of carrying people to the International Space Station. It has a back-up emergency landing system that the astronauts said was triggered automatically when the launch encountered a glitch. The two returned to Earth in the Soyuz capsule in what's called "ballistic descent mode."

The failure "only helped to solidify my appreciation for how robust that system is," said Hague, 43, in an online question-and-answer session with reporters streamed by NASA.

"There is a launch-abort system that protects me continuously from about an hour before the launch until I'm in orbit. And at any moment in there that we could have a failure, it's going to protect me," he said, describing the aborted launch as "just a great example of those fail-safe systems stepping in and doing the job."

A search-and-rescue team arrives at the emergency landing site on the Kazakh steppe on October 11.
A search-and-rescue team arrives at the emergency landing site on the Kazakh steppe on October 11.

"That system hadn't been tested in 35 years, but we tested it last week, and it's ready," he said.

"That's a testament to the commitment and the perseverance and the attention to the details" of the teams that developed and manufacture Soyuz rockets, he said.

"They are constantly trying to build a perfect spacecraft, but it can't be perfect all the time, so we have contingencies in place and we have other fail-safe systems," he said. "I think that everybody realizes that what we do is difficult and that there's risk involved. And it's important to understand that it is worth the risk. What we are doing up there at the space station, what we are doing for human exploration, it's for the benefit of all, and it's important that we continue."

Ovchinin, 47, said the steep reentry back to Earth put crushing force on the astronauts -- like putting a "big concrete block on your chest that is seven times your weight." But he told Rossia-24 television that the pressure was not any greater than what they endured during training for the mission.

Ovchinin, who unlike Hague had previous experience in space, took command during the emergency landing and quipped during the landing that they had had a particularly "short flight."

"For the most part, the rescue system worked automatically, and we just followed the system," he told Rossia-24.

"There was no time to be nervous, because we had to work," he said. "We had to go through the steps that crew has to take and prepare for emergency landing...so that the crew is still functioning after landing."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and TASS
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