Kansas child grows up to become NASA pilot and International Space Station scientist.
From their home in rural Idaho, retired educators Don and Beverly "Bev" Hague often look up at the stars. One of them will often turn to the other and say: "Can you believe our son is up there?"
It took an aborted flight, but, eventually, their son made it to the International Space Station, offering an even better vantage point of the stars he gazed upon as a child growing up in Hoxie, Kansas. Surely, Tyler "Nick" Hague looks down on Earth and has similar sentiments as his parents, in disbelief at what he's looking at.
"I think he could send us 2 million photos, but it would never be the same as being up there looking down on Earth," Bev said.
Closing in on the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission when man first stepped on the moon, Bev has been thinking more about the history of the U.S. space program, where it's going and her son's involvement in it all.
In 2017, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum for astronauts to return to the moon long-term, then travel to "Mars and other destinations" to bring back "new knowledge and opportunities."
July 20, 1969
An 18-year-old Bev sat glued to a black-and-white TV at a friend's house in Marion, Kansas.
The Vietnam War was coming off its deadliest year for American soldiers. Records from the National Archives show 16,000-plus American soldiers of the total 58,220 died that year.
The conflict divided Americans. But that day, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong prepared to step out of the lunar module and make his way down the ladder and onto the moon.
"I feel like that one day brought the country together," Bev said. "Just pride, and love for country, and each other. It was a real unifying event."
Apollo 11 offered a chance to bring people together from both sides to root for their country. An estimated 600 million people or one-sixth of the planet tuned in, making it one of the most-watched events to date since the advent of television.
CBS reported more than 60 percent of the 200 million Americans watched the event live and "nearly half of the country's 57 million TVs were tuned to CBS, to Walter Cronkite."
Astronaut Wally Schirra, who appeared on the broadcast alongside the legendary broadcaster, was notably teary-eyed when the module landed on the moon after 4 p.m.
Cronkite, often called "the most trusted man in America," rubbed his hands together and smiled.
Armstrong's foot pressed against the moon's surface at 10:56 p.m. (EST).
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stayed on the moon for 21 hours while Michael Collins orbited around the moon and waited for their rendezvous. But, before then, Cronkite signed off after CBS had been on the air "32 straight hours."
"This concludes one of the longest scheduled broadcasts. The longest in the history of television. Thanks from Walter Cronkite, CBS News Space Headquarters, New York."
In 1980, a 4-year-old Nick went with his father to see "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back." He came home and told his mother he wanted to be a "space scientist."
"I didn't take it seriously at 4," Bev said. "But at 9 and 10 I was thinking 'OK, this kid still wants to be a space scientist.'"
Nick's mind never wavered.
On an impromptu visit to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Nick decided that's where he wanted to go after graduating from Hoxie High School. He made that decision in grade school and followed through with it, earning a bachelor's in astronautical engineering in 1998 and then a related master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000.
Bev said growing up, Nick wasn't an overachiever, but a high achiever and an "incredible role model for his (younger) brothers."
"He was just your regular, all-American kid," Bev said, adding the best way she could describe Nick was a person with lots of perseverance.
Nick applied for the astronaut program and twice was turned down.
Bev said she remembers driving with his husband and receiving a call from Nick. They talked about the usual stuff before Bev tried to sign off. Nick waited until the last minute to drop the life-changing news.
"'NASA called and it seems they want me to come down and work for them,'" Nick told Bev. She replied: "Doing what?"
Bev laughs now that she had to ask, but agrees it was a vague job description by Nick.
Nick became one of eight members — four men and four women — in the NASA Astronaut Group 21. He went through years of training, including two focused and more rigorous years once he was assigned to Soyuz MS-10 mission to the ISS.
In October 2018, the rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Aboard were Nick and Russian astronaut Aleksey Ovchinin.
Don and Bev watched on with her other two sons and their families. Nick's wife and children were also in attendance. Bev said they had a step-by-step commentary of the launch from NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams.
Soon after launch, Bev said Williams stopped talking. Eventually, Williams told the family that something went wrong, but Nick and Ovchinin were OK.
A booster failure shortly after liftoff forced the men to abort.
"Nick and (his wife) are the kind of people that prepare their sons for going to space," Bev said, adding she was unsure the exact conversations they had with her grandsons. "I knew when it happened that Nick would try to go to space again."
"The second launch was easier for me. I knew in my heart that it was going to be alright."
The launch on March 14, 2019, was a success. NASA astronaut Christina Koch joined Nick and Ovchinin on the rocket. They will stay at the ISS until October.
Bev has weekly calls with Nick while he's aboard the ISS. On special occasions, she said, they have video chats. She's been surprised at the quality of the video.
Bev said she frequently watches NASA TV, often catching Nick talking with a classroom in Australia or being interviewed by the media. Nick wears NASA attire during those live streamings but puts on the T-shirts Bev had printed and sent up to him off cameras.
She's sent up T-shirts that say: "There and Back Again: An Astronaut's Tale," which is a play on J.R.R. Tolkien's book, "There and Back Again: A Hobbit's Tale." She also sent up T-shirts with the Kansas motto "Ad Astra Per Aspera."
She's tried to send food, but that often doesn't make it. Candy usually does, she said.
The Hagues hope to get a glimpse of their son on Saturday during a launch party.
NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will be launching on Saturday — the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11— from Russia alongside two international astronauts. Bev is counting down the time from when the ISS hatch opens so she can catch Nick welcoming his classmate aboard.
"They are good friends, and I thought it would just be a lot of fun to watch Nick welcome him to the space station," Bev said.
When people find out Nick is in space, they often reply they didn't know there was still a space program.
"If Nick hadn't been so involved with it, I might have thought the same thing," she said.
The ocean and space are the last "great frontiers." Bev said the U.S. needed to keep exploring them, noting the technological advancements made during exploration. The space program led to the creation of water purifiers, artificial limbs and camera phones.
Twelve people have stepped foot on the moon, with the last in 1972.
Following the Apollo 11 mission, many astronauts thought the U.S. would reach Mars by 1980. Astronaut Aldrin — the second man to ever step on the moon — later came out with a T-shirt that stated: "GET YOUR A-- TO MARS."
However, the U.S. investment into space travel dropped considerably in the late 1960s, when accounting for inflation, and milestones slowed.
The commitment to reach the moon by 2024 includes the first woman on the moon and establishing long-term operations there. Astronauts also plan to land on the moon's south pole for the first time.
The ice-filled south pole is desirable because of the implications it could have for resupplying additional resources needed to travel even further.
Knowing Nick, Bev said traveling to the moon and beyond is a venture she is sure he will consider. She said that decision will have to be made with his immediate family, but he would have "100 percent support from his family like he did this time."
Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo and the moon goddess in Greek mythology, is the name of the program NASA will use to "establish a sustainable human presence on the moon" on rockets with "unprecedented power and capabilities."
"Pretty incredible what man can do when they set their minds to it," Bev said. "But thank heavens we have people who can look up and wonder what is out there."