NASA Astronauts Gear Up for Launch to Space Station Next Month

Nick Hague and Christina Koch are a little busy: In just three weeks, the NASA astronauts and their Russian counterpart will climb into a Soyuz capsule, blast off from a launch pad in Kazakhstan and make their way to the International Space Station for a six-month stay.

The three-person crew has just completed its final exams, a mandatory set of tests that ensure astronauts are prepared for their flight and anything that can go wrong during it.

All astronauts know that something can always go wrong, but Hague more than most; he and veteran Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin were strapped into a capsule at the tip of a Soyuz rocket on Oct. 11 last year, when an anomaly with a booster caused the launch to abort. Hague and Ovchinin were unharmed during their half-hour trip back down to Earth, thanks to their exhaustive training.

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The pair will take a second stab at spaceflight, accompanied by Koch, on Mar. 14, with blastoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan scheduled for 3:14 p.m. EDT (1914 GMT).

For Hague, it couldn't come soon enough. "I am ready to launch into space," Hague told Space.com. "My experience of a normal launch stops at about 2 minutes into the launch, so I'm excited about the 204 days that are going to follow those first 2 minutes."

Since the launch failure, Hague has focused on training for the new mission and spending time with his family, who were in Kazakhstan in October for the launch that went awry. 

"There's also been adequate time to be able to really process everything that happened with the family, and that's been important," Hague said. "We don't explore space alone. It's not just the crew that goes up there. We've got a huge team on the ground that supports us, but even more important than that is the family that supports us while we're up there, and they make sacrifices too."

Hague's American crewmate, Koch, will be launching for the first time next month and is also raring to go. "I've been in flight training for over five years, and I'm just ready to finally put all that training to work, to hopefully make the folks that trained me proud and to contribute, to give back to this program that I've held in such a high regard since I was very young," she told Space.com.

Although it will be her first launch, she has plenty of colleagues to rely on during her last weeks of preparation. "A lot of the advice comes from my friends that are already up on orbit. We make sure and share with each other all of the little tricks of the trade that you learn once you're in space," Koch said, singling out NASA astronaut-training classmate Anne McClain, who arrived at the orbiting laboratory in December.

Hague and Koch's six months in space will include a few major milestones. Barring further launch delays, uncrewed test flights of both SpaceX's and Boeing's crew vehicles should arrive at the station during this mission. This summer will also see the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing, which both astronauts are looking forward to commemorating, they said.

"It's definitely something we've had our eye on, and we're all very excited and honored that we will have the opportunity to celebrate that amazing milestone while we are in space," Koch said. "We definitely plan to commemorate it as a crew and to share that as much as possible."

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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