This afternoon, three astronauts are slated to launch on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan, bound for the International Space Station. For two of the three crew members, it’s a second chance, after a disastrous rocket malfunction cut short their last flight into space.
The trio launching today includes NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague, along with Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Hague and Ovchinin were slated to fly to the International Space Station on October 11th, on the same version of the Russian Soyuz vehicle they’re taking today. But just two and a half minutes into the flight, the Soyuz rocket that launched the two astronauts was destroyed when a side booster slammed into the rocket.
Fortunately, the Soyuz capsule carrying Hague and Ovchinin quickly started its emergency abort sequence and separated from the decaying rocket about 31 miles up. It then performed what is known as a ballistic descent, a landing that is much steeper than your average return trip from space. After pulling a few extra Gs, Hague and Ovchinin landed safely back on Earth, using the Soyuz capsule’s parachutes.
After their trip to the station was cut short, NASA and Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, decided to give the two flyers a second chance and assigned them to today’s flight with Koch. The Soyuz model that failed also quickly returned to flight a month later and even launched a crew of three to the space station safely in December.
Koch, Hague, and Ovchinin are slated to live on the station for up to six months before returning this summer. This will be the first time to orbit for Koch and Hague (not counting his botched flight) and the second time for Ovchinin (also not counting the October flight). They’ll be joining NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, who have been living on the ISS for over three months. While on board, Koch and McClain are slated to conduct the first all-female spacewalk at the end of March, completing upgrades on the space station’s power channels, according to NASA.
Today’s launch is scheduled for 3:14PM ET out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Once the Soyuz reaches orbit, the crew will stay there for about six hours before rendezvousing and docking with the ISS at 9:07PM ET. NASA plans to cover each event, with launch coverage starting at 2PM ET and docking coverage starting at 8:45PM ET. Then around 10:30PM ET, the crew will open the hatch and enter the ISS. Check back this afternoon to see Hague and Ovchinin try for round two.