Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin says the force he felt during a Soyuz emergency landing last week was like having a concrete block on his chest.
Ovchinin and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague spoke separately Tuesday about their frightening experience when an unknown mishap caused their Russian Soyuz to abort its mission 60 kilometers (37 miles) above Kazakhstan.
The spacecraft was on its way to the International Space Station when the emergency lights flashed in the cabin just minutes into the flight.
“There was no time to be nervous because we had to work,” Ovchinin told Russian television. “We had to go through the steps that the crew has to take and prepare for emergency landing … so that the crew is still functioning after landing.”
Ovchinin recalled being violently shaken from side by side as the crew cabin separated from the rocket, followed by a force seven times stronger then gravity as the cabin plunged through the atmosphere, followed by the shock of the parachutes yanking open.
Back home in Houston, Hague told the Associated Press, “We knew that if we wanted to be successful, we needed to stay calm and we needed to execute the procedures in front of us smoothly and efficiently as we could.”
Hague said he and Ovchinin were hanging upside down when the cabin landed back on Earth. They shook hands and cracked jokes.
Neither man was hurt, and an investigation is under way to find out why the rocket failed.
Hague said he is disappointed to be back home instead of walking in space, but he’s happy to be reunited with his wife and their two young sons, and is ready to fly again as soon as NASA gives him the word.
“What can you do? Sometimes you don’t get a vote,” Hague told the Associated Press. “You just try to celebrate the little gifts that you get, like walking the boys to school this morning.”
This was the first aborted Soyuz launch in more than 30 years.
The Russian spacecraft has been the only way to send replacement crews to the International Space Station since NASA retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Two private U.S. companies — Boeing and SpaceX — are working on a new generation of shuttles.