Tyler N. Hague was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2013. He earned a BS from the United States Air Force Academy in 1998, and a MS from MIT in 2000. In 2009, Hague was selected for the Air Force Fellows program in Washington, D.C., and was a staff member in the United States Senate. Hague is currently assigned to launch March 2019 and will serve aboard the International Space Station as a flight engineer for Expedition 59 and 60. He is married to Lt. Col. Catie Hague, U.S. Air Force. They have two sons.
ASTRONAUT NICK HAGUE IS SLATED TO FINALLY GO TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION IN MARCH. HE HAS BECOME A BIT OF A “MEDIA DARLING” IN RECENT MONTHS, AS THE ONLY NASA ASTRONAUT WHO HAS SURVIVED A ROCKET DISINTEGRATION TWO MINUTES INTO LAUNCH, WHEN HIS RUSSIAN SOYUZ ROCKET BOOSTER MALFUNCTIONED, WHICH IS A VERY RARE OCCURRENCE. HIS COLLEAGUE WAS RUSSIAN COSMONAUT ALEXEY OVCHININ, AND WITHIN A FEW MINUTES OF LAUNCH, THEY CRASH- LANDED IN KAZAKHSTAN, SAFELY AND ACCORDING TO THE PLAN IN PLACE TO RESPOND TO A LAUNCH MALFUNCTION. THE RUSSIANS FOUND THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM, WHICH NICK DISCUSSES HERE. THE FOLLOWING LAUNCH IN THE SOYUZ WAS SUCCESSFUL ON DEC. 3, 2018, TAKING THREE ASTRONAUTS TO THE SPACE STATION, WHICH HAS BEEN CONTINUOUSLY MANNED FOR 18 YEARS, SINCE NOVEMBER 2000.
I SPOKE WITH NICK ON DECEMBER 12, 2018, A FEW DAYS FOLLOWING HIS INTERVIEW ON CBS THIS MORNING DECEMBER 7, WHEN HE SAID, “LIFE DOESN’T ALWAYS TURN OUT THE WAY YOU’VE PLANNED. MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WHAT DEFINES YOU IS HOW YOU BOUNCE BACK FROM THAT.” ALSO IN THAT INTERVIEW, NICK’S WIFE CATIE QUOTED THEIR YOUNG SON, WHO SAID, “WELL, YOU TRIED, IT DIDN’T WORK OUT, SO IT’S TIME TO GET A NEW JOB.” FORTUNATELY, NICK WILL GET TO TRY AGAIN TO GET TO THE ISS.
JAMES YOO Thank you so much for joining me, Nick. You are, I believe, going to space to the International Space Station in March. Is that when you’re scheduled to go now, Nick?
HAGUE Yes. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
JAMES YOO Great. That is so exciting. I know that a lot of people realize what happened. Do you want to share what happened when you did not make it and had to do an emergency landing a few months ago?
HAGUE So, almost to the day two months ago, October 11th, Alexey Ovchinin, my commander, and I were launching to the space station on the same launch pad we’re going to use at the end of March. And two minutes into the launch during the first-stage separation event, one of the external rocket boosters didn’t separate properly and collided back into the rocket, essentially causing the rocket to disintegrate. As that happened, the abort system detected the problem with the rocket, which activated the emergency escape system and pulled us away safely from the rocket. And then, we essentially performed a standard landing in the Soyuz reentry capsule underneath the parachute, landing in the middle of the Kazakh Steppes (in northern Kazakhstan). We were rescued by SAR (search and rescue) forces, minutes after our capsule touched down.
JAMES YOO That’s really incredible how well it went, considering how dangerous that sounds and that something went wrong. But actually, for something going wrong, it went very well, and no one was injured, right?
HAGUE Absolutely. And that’s a testament to the system, the program that’s in place over in Russia to launch crews on the Soyuz rocket, and the Soyuz spacecraft. They hadn’t exercised a launch-abort in 35 years. When it was needed, it worked flawlessly. When the search and rescue forces needed to respond, they responded flawlessly. They’ve got a really great program over there, and it was impressive to see it in action.
JAMES YOO I know that you’re very excited that you’re going to be able to actually go to the Space Station in March. Is it still planned to be for a six-month period?
HAGUE Yeah. It’s roughly six months. And it’s exciting to get up there. I’ve been down here at NASA since 2013, and have essentially trained continuously. So, you’ve got five years of training building up to spending six months on the Space Station. So, it’s exciting to get the opportunity, especially to have it so soon, to go and try to do this again. It’s going to be thrilling to fly around the world for six months.
JAMES YOO That’s incredible. Thank you for being willing to let us publish some of your photos from the Space Station. We’re looking forward to that. Apogeo Spatial is about leveraging data about the Earth from space, ultimately to benefit humanity. We publish photos from satellites on a regular basis, and I’m excited to expand our scope and publish photos from the Space Station as well. I also wanted to share that we have a partnership with the ISS National Lab.
HAGUE Yes. I’m familiar with them.
50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing
Nick will be on the ISS on July 20, 2019, for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Russia was a fierce competitor then, and now they are one of NASA’s most important partners for the space station. This change is a testament to how difficult space really is, that the greatest minds on Earth need to work together to be able to run the ISS. All over America, many events will celebrate this anniversary, including the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the Space Center in Houston, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Denver’s Wings Over the Rockies, which is having an Apollopalooza week-long event. Neil Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, will be celebrating with a Summer Moon Festival.
JAMES YOO Great. I know you’ll be doing some experiments. We have their first article about the remote sensing experiments in this issue. Do you have any idea yet what kind of experiments you’ll be working on?
HAGUE So, it’s one of the surprising things about the program, that with long-duration space flight, being up there for six months, they can’t exactly script out what we’re going to do. The impact of my launch-abort, and the shuffle of everything that’s going to happen up there is just one example of how fluid the program is. So, they train us to have generic skills so that we can apply those to any particular experiment that we’re required to support. Two-thirds of the science that I’m going to do up there, I won’t see until they ask me to do it on board.
JAMES YOO Oh, wow.
HAGUE So, that’s a little daunting. But, it’s also a testament to the training team, getting us prepared to be able to do something like that. The things I’m most familiar with are the ones where I’m a human test subject, so I’m the guinea pig, and they’re trying to see how I respond to changes in weightlessness without gravity as a vector. Here is an example. If you think about it, everything you use in terms of internal navigation inside your head about keeping a mental map of where you are in a building, and being able to find your way from point A to point B, is all anchored on this idea that you always know where down is. And so, it’s not uncommon up there for astronauts to get lost inside the Space Station even though it’s so small, because you don’t have any sense of where down is. There are several experiments I’m doing that are looking at how we create those mental maps, and they’re looking at the effects of microgravity, or not having that strong down direction – how that changes how our brain works. They will take images of our brains before launch, and then after we land, and see if there are any structural changes – being able to perform virtual reality tasks, our perception of time and time dilation. Is there any impact on that? There are all these different aspects that we’re trying to look into.
JAMES YOO That is really fascinating. There are so many different experiments that are happening. It’s almost as if you’re becoming a scientist, as well, by doing these experiments that are not really related to space!
HAGUE That might be giving me a little too much credit. So, I wouldn’t say that I’m turning into a scientist. But they’ve trained me to be a scientist’s eyes, and ears, and hands, and to be able to perform the experiments. I’m collecting the data, and I’m sending the data down to PhDs on the ground who are making decisions with it.
JAMES YOO Oh, okay. I know there are experiments in life sciences, physical sciences, and technology development, in addition to remote sensing, the latter of which is the specific focus of Apogeo Spatial.
HAGUE You name it – we’re looking into it.
JAMES YOO What do you think about all the new commercial space companies that are out there these days, with SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and so many additional companies now? You’re going up on the Soyuz MS-10, which is a very tried-and-true reliable launch vehicle. What do you think about the “NewSpace” companies?
HAGUE I think that the energy in the private sector is awesome. The more people that we can get involved with space, I think the better off we’re going to be. The commercial crew program, for instance, testing now with Boeing and SpaceX, which will be able to launch crews from the U.S. – think about the societal impact. Right now, it’s very difficult for anybody to go watch somebody launch into space. It’s out in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan. But as soon as we bring it back to the Florida coast, thousands of people are going to be able to experience watching a crew launch into space firsthand. And think of how many people that’s going to inspire.
JAMES YOO Right. We’ll have a little more national pride again, perhaps, in that way.
HAGUE Yeah. It’s going to be great, and I hope it inspires lots of young boys and girls to get involved with STEM fields, and to want to be a part of the space program. From a program perspective, I think it’s a great advancement too, because it gives us a more robust program. My launch abort’s a great example. If something happens with the Soyuz, we will still have other ways to get the crew to orbit and continue the mission, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do. So, it makes the program more robust.
JAMES YOO Yes. That’s great. I’m also hearing a lot about space tourism, about citizens wanting to go to space. Several companies are really making that a reality: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin… I think that it’s really going to be interesting. We’re in this timeframe now of space being so exciting again. One thing I’m really fascinated with is this concept that when people go to space, whether they’re astronauts or not, when they look back at the Earth and see the planet, there’s a change in consciousness that happens – a sense of awe, or a sense of oneness. We’re really interested in covering that as well. HAGUE Yeah. I’ve heard the same thing, termed “The Overview Effect.” It puts things in a slightly different perspective. And so, that’s one of those things with space flight that I’m looking forward to, experiencing it firsthand and seeing how it affects me will be one of the personal highlights that I’m going to have in the mission. Sharing that with as many people becomes our responsibility once we get back down on the ground, and trying to help people understand that. And so, I think the idea of tourism in space is great, because the more people that can experience it firsthand, the more that we can get the message out there.
“The space program is really about service. What we’re doing ultimately is trying to give more to others than we give to ourselves. We’re trying to do that for humanity – for the benefit of all the people that are on the ground.”
JAMES YOO I agree. You know, I love that you said that it’s a responsibility. That’s how I feel about the magazine, that we have a responsibility to share as much information like this as we can. That’s really one of the reasons why I publish and own this magazine. I’m thrilled that we’ll be able to take your message and get that out there for you as well. Nick, I know you’re from a small town in Kansas. Do you feel that growing up in a rural area has contributed to your success as an astronaut, and in general in life? HAGUE Yeah. It’s one of those things where, when you’re growing up in a small town in rural Kansas, it’s natural to focus on all the things that are missing. You know? You’re just not part of it. And that’s the way I felt growing up, that I’m outside of it all. The world is happening all around me and I’m just not part of it. Looking back now, though, I realize that the small town environment gave me so many opportunities that I might have missed if I had been in a school district that had thousands of students as opposed to a few hundred students. I was able to really test out my interests and try everything just to try it – play every sport, be in multiple clubs, try band, forensics, debate – go ahead and just really spread your wings and test some things out; that’s what growing up in a small town did for me. It gave me all those opportunities, and really gave me the foundation to move forward in life. And so, it was very formative. In hindsight, there’s no better place to grow up. I’m thankful for the experiences I had growing up in northwest Kansas. JAMES YOO That’s great. And I agree with you. It made me also want to go out and do all those things. I moved to Chicago as soon as I could. Nick, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us – any final thoughts? HAGUE Yes. It kind of builds off the last thing. I appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish with your magazine. It’s really about service. What we’re doing ultimately is trying to give more to others than we give to ourselves. We’re trying to be part of something bigger than ourselves. That’s what the space program is about. We’re trying to conduct that science. We’re trying to explore the unknown. We’re trying to discover answers to questions that we don’t have the answers for. But, we’re trying to do that for humanity – for the benefit of all the people that are on the ground. And that’s a vital mission; it’s a vital mission that we’ve been doing for decades continuously. And it’s a vital mission that we need to continue to do. I think whatever you can do to spread the awareness, and to reach new demographics, to let people know that we are doing this, is so important. Spreading that awareness to everyone, whatever you can do, is a positive. I can’t tell you how many people I meet who have never met an astronaut before, and they’re surprised to meet me because they didn’t know that we were still working in space – that we still have an astronaut program. Because when the shuttle was retired, they thought we shuttered the doors. We didn’t. We’re continuing. And so, spreading the message is a critical job. JAMES YOO That really is important. I know that as I’ve learned more and more about the federal government – NASA, NOAA, USGS – since I took over this magazine 16 years ago, that I have more and more respect for the incredibly important work you are doing, collectively. And I absolutely love that we have a role in continuing to get the word out about all of that. We’re not a big consumer publication, as you know, but we really do take that responsibility seriously as well. I appreciate your mentioning that. Thank you so much, Nick, for joining me today. I’m looking forward to publishing your personal photos and thoughts from space, and to staying in touch. Thank you. HAGUE Absolutely. My pleasure, Myrna. Thank you.
Disclaimer: Publisher Myrna James Yoo is from the same small town that Nick considers his hometown, Hoxie, Kansas. Her mother, Bette James, was Nick’s high school English teacher, as well as a key influence in his life. Nick shared that he is taking Mrs. James’ photo, among others, to the ISS to recognize those who have contributed to his success.