NASA astronaut Nick Hague is excited to clamber atop a Russian Soyuz rocket 11 weeks from now, even though his first experience with the booster didn't go so well.
On Oct. 11, the Soyuz sending Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin toward the International Space Station (ISS) malfunctioned about 2 minutes after liftoff, causing the two spaceflyers to make a scary but successful emergency landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
But Hague and Ovchinin won't be Earth-bound for much longer. The duo are manifested on the next ISS Soyuz launch, along with Christina Hammock Koch, who, like Hague, was part of NASA's 2013 astronaut class. [In Photos: Soyuz Crew's Harrowing Abort Landing After Launch Failure]
That launch is scheduled for Feb. 28, 2019, and Hague said he's really looking forward to it.
"I'm feeling great. I'm excited to have the chance to launch with a fellow classmate, and together, I think, collectively, we're ready, Alexey and Christina and I," he said during a news conference Wednesday (Dec. 12) at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It's going to be really thrilling to get my first mission to the station and be able to share it with Christina."
Hague also expressed confidence in the ability of NASA, Roscosmos (the Russian federal space agency) and the ISS program as a whole to keep him and his astronaut colleagues safe. He cited the successful launch abort and the recent repair of a small hole in a crew-carrying Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS.
"Those are examples of challenges that the program has faced, and they've worked together cooperatively, collaboratively, and I just think it shows the strength of the program," Hague said. "So, I have a lot of confidence in the program to continue to move forward and to continue to make it as safe as possible."
"We accept those risks because we know why we're doing what we're doing," he said. "It all boils down to the science and the discovery, whether it's trying to expand our knowledge of our environment around us on the ground or of ourselves, or we're trying to prove out the technologies that are going to take us back to the moon."
Ovchinin lived aboard the ISS from March through September 2016, logging 172 days in orbit. But the Feb. 28 launch will kick off the first space mission for both Hague and Hammock Koch, so the NASA duo have a lot of "firsts" to look forward to.
Hague said he's particularly excited about spacewalking and can't wait to experience all the sensations of spaceflight. Hammock Koch echoed those thoughts and also stressed that she's grateful to get a chance to contribute to the program that has trained her for the past half-decade.
"I would say the overarching thing that connects all those various things I'm excited about together is the opportunity to give back to a program that I have loved since I was young — to be a part of it and to know that, every day, I get to actually move it forward, and move the goals forward, through my actual day-to-day work," she said during Wednesday's news conference. (Ovchinin did not attend; he was training in Star City, near Moscow, NASA officials said.)
Hague, Hammock Koch and Ovchinin won't come home from the ISS until October, which means they'll get to welcome the first astronauts who visit the ISS aboard private U.S. spaceships, if current schedules hold. SpaceX's Dragon crew capsule is scheduled to make its first crewed test flight to the orbiting lab next June, and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner will tote its first astronauts two months later.
"I'm also very excited to be a part of ushering in that new era," Hammock Koch said.
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcomor Facebook. Originally published on Space.com.