Astronauts on new space mission dismiss safety concerns after Soyuz accident

The Soyuz booster rocket FG with Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft being installed on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Dec 1 2018.
The Soyuz booster rocket FG with Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft being installed on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Dec 1 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN (AFP) - Astronauts of the first manned space mission since an unprecedented accident in October on Sunday (Dec 2) brushed aside concerns about Russia's Soyuz rocket, saying risks were part of the job.

Mr Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Ms Anne McClain of Nasa and Mr David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur in Kazakhstan aboard a Soviet-designed Soyuz on Monday.

They will head to the ISS after a Soyuz rocket carrying Russia's Aleksey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague failed on Oct 11 just minutes after blast-off.

The pair escaped unharmed, but the failed launch was the first such accident in Russia's post-Soviet history and a new setback for the country's once proud space industry.

The crew heading to the ISS dismissed any possible concerns about their safety.

"Risk is part of our profession," crew commander Kononenko told a news conference at Baikonur, adding that they "absolutely" trusted teams preparing them for the flight.

"We are psychologically and technically prepared for blast-off and any situation which, God forbid, may occur on board," the 54-year-old said.


Mr Kononenko added that the crew would conduct a spacewalk on Dec 11 as part of the investigation into a mysterious hole that has caused an air leak on the ISS.

Ms McClain, a 39-year-old former military pilot, struck a similar note.

"We feel very ready for it," she said.

Canada's Saint-Jacques added that the Soyuz spacecraft was "incredibly safe", noting it was "actually reassuring" to witness the October aborted launch from Baikonur.

The accident highlighted the "smart design of the Soyuz and the incredible work that the search and rescue people here on the ground are ready to do every launch", the 48-year-old said.

Mr Saint-Jacques joked that he had received so much training ahead of the flight "that I felt at the end that I could build a Soyuz in my backyard".

Russia said last month the launch of the Soyuz rocket failed because of a sensor that was damaged during assembly at the Baikonur cosmodrome, but officials insisted the spacecraft remains reliable.

Mr Saint-Jacques will be the first Canadian astronaut to visit the space station since Mr Chris Hadfield, who recorded a version of David Bowie's Space Oddity classic aboard the ISS in 2013.

Canada's governor general and former astronaut Julie Payette is expected to be among the dignitaries to watch Monday's launch.

Of the trio set to reach the ISS six hours after blast-off, both Mr Saint-Jacques and Ms McClain will fly for the first time. Mr Kononenko is beginning his fourth mission to add to an impressive 533 days in space.

Nasa's McClain was deployed to Iraq and has represented the United States women's national rugby union team.

She has said that training to spacewalk was similar to rugby since it demands "grit, toughness, mental focus, and more".