NASA astronaut Nick Hague was one of the two men aboard the Soyuz rocket that failed soon after launch yesterday (Oct. 11) — and NASA had hardly confirmed that he was safe before speculation about his flight schedule began.
NASA publicly confirmed that Hague and his colleague, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, were in good condition about 40 minutes after the mission's liftoff. However, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said there was a period when he and Hague's family weren't sure about the astronaut's safety.
Bridenstine was on site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch, his first time at the facility as head of the agency. In public comments about the launch and rescue operations, he said he saw NASA staff come together to support Hague's family after the launch failure. "For a period of time, we didn't know what the situation was," Bridenstine said, his voice catching.
Now, a day after Hague's perilous experience, he has taken to Twitter to thank concerned onlookers and the crews that oversaw both the launch and the rescue. NASA has said he is due to arrive in Houston tomorrow (Oct. 13).
But questions still swirl about Hague's future schedule, as well as the bigger picture of space station staffing. Hague has been in the astronaut corps for five years after a career in the Air Force. He was assigned to yesterday's launch, which would have been his first time in space, in March 2017. During a news conference held yesterday, NASA personnel praised Hague's record as an astronaut but said it was too early to tell when he might get a new launch.
"This was his first trip to the International Space Station, and so I'm confident he's disappointed," Bridenstine said of Hague during the same public affairs interview. "I will also say that we're thrilled that he's safe. We're thrilled that even though it was a launch failure, all of the safety systems worked."
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency, Roscosmos, which oversaw yesterday's launch, has stated on Twitter that the two men will fly again, possibly next spring. That said, the Russian agency does not oversee NASA staffing; it merely sells the U.S. agency seats aboard the Soyuz capsule.