Astronaut who survived Soyuz scare '100 percent' confident over new launch


Baikonur (Kazakhstan) (AFP)

A NASA astronaut who was jettisoned into the sky but survived unhurt after an abortive Soyuz launch said Wednesday he felt "100 percent confident" about his upcoming flight to the International Space Station.

On Thursday, US astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are scheduled to travel to the International Space Station from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, around six months after the two men were forced to make an emergency landing shortly after blastoff.

While observers described last year's failed launch as an unprecedented setback for the Russian space industry, both Ovchinin and Hague struck a positive tone, speaking to reporters ahead of the launch.

"I'm 100 percent confident in the rocket and the spaceship," said 43-year-old Hague, who will make a second attempt to go into space for the first time.

The abort helped "clarify in me the reason we do what we do and whether the risks (we take) are worth it. And it is very clear to me that (they are)," said Hague.

Ovchinin, who spent six months at the ISS during a previous mission in 2016, also played down the drama of the emergency landing last October.

The failed launch was "a little disappointing" after preparations for the flight that lasted a year-and-a-half but also "an interesting and needed experience" that tested the depth of the space programme's preparedness, the 47-year-old said.

If family members were anxious about him preparing for another blastoff, they did not show it, he added.

"Maybe they had some of those thoughts in their head but they would never say anything to me. They know how much I like my work!"

There has already been one successful manned launch to the ISS since the failed mission.

Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency blasted off to the orbiting lab in December and are expected to greet their new crewmates at the hatch early Friday.

Koch, Hague and Ovchinin's six-hour flight will also be closely watched for another reason.

SpaceX's successful test launch to the ISS this month has challenged an eight-year monopoly on travel to the ISS enjoyed by Russia ever since NASA stopped its launches there.