Months after aborted flight, U.S.-Russian crew makes smooth trip to space station

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Soyuz liftoff
A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending three spacefliers to the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin finally made it to the International Space Station today, five months after their first trip went awry.

The two spacefliers were due to join the station’s crew last October, but as they were ascending from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, one of their Soyuz rocket’s side boosters knocked into the main core, causing a rare abort and activation of the Soyuz capsule’s escape system.

The capsule was thrown clear of the rocket, and Hague and Ovchinin made a safe but rather rocky ballistic landing. It took weeks to track down the cause of the anomaly — a bent sensor — and ensure that the anomaly wouldn’t reoccur.

It took months more to get the pair back into the flight rotation. Today’s trouble-free launch from Baikonur sent them into space in the company of a third crew member, rookie NASA astronaut Christina Koch.

Six hours later, the trio arrived at the space station and joined three crewmates who have been living on the station since December: NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko.

During a space-to-ground video conference with friends and family in Baikonur, Hague said “this flight was infinitely better than the last one.”

Koch’s husband, Bob Koch, told her that her “space face” looked adorable.

“I haven’t even seen my space face yet, so we’ll see,” Koch replied.

When astronauts start their stints on the space station, more blood tends to pool in the upper body due to the lack of gravity. That often gives a newly arrived spaceflier’s face a filled-out or puffy appearance. The effect subsides as the body adjusts to microgravity.

Koch’s first trip into space will mark a first in space history: She and McClain are scheduled to take on the world’s first all-women spacewalk on March 29, to replace batteries fed by the station’s solar arrays.

At Mission Control in Houston, lead flight director Mary Lawrence, lead flight controller Jackie Kagey and Canadian flight controller Kristen Facciol will round out the spacewalk team.



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