BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — A booster rocket failed less than two minutes after launching an American and a Russian toward the International Space Station on Thursday, forcing their emergency — but safe — landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
It was the latest in a recent series of failures for the troubled Russian space program, which is used by the U.S. to carry its astronauts to the station.
.@AstroHague, right, and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, left, embrace their families after landing in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Hague and Ovchinin arrived after a safe landing on Earth following a Soyuz booster failure during launch earlier. Look: https://t.co/MzoA9TOqXk pic.twitter.com/mZqIiL7RYi
— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2018
NASA astronaut Nick Hague of Hoxie, Kansas and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin were subjected to heavy gravitational forces as their capsule automatically jettisoned from the Soyuz booster rocket and fell back to Earth at a sharper-than-normal angle and landed about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) October 11, 2018
“Thank God the crew is alive,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, when it became clear that they had landed safely. He added that the president is receiving regular updates about the situation.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who watched the launch at Baikonur along with his Russian counterpart, tweeted that Hague and Ovchinin are in good condition. He added that a “thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”
Hague and Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2:40 p.m. (4:40 a.m. EDT)Thursday from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The astronauts were to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch.
But the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an unspecified failure of its second stage about two minutes after launching. Search and rescue teams were immediately scrambled to recover the crew and paratroopers were dropped from a plane to reach the site and help the rescue effort.
It was to be the first space mission for Hague, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013. Ovchinin spent six months on the orbiting outpost in 2016.
.@NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/M76yisHaKF
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 11, 2018
While the Russian space program has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents in recent years, Thursday’s mishap marked the program’s first manned launch failure since September 1983, when a Soyuz exploded on the launch pad.
The astronauts were flown by helicopter to Dzhezkazgan and will later be taken to Baikonur and on to Star City, Russia’s space training center outside Moscow.
NASA posted pictures of Hague and Ovchinin undergoing a medical check-up at Dzhezkazgan’s airport. One of the pictures showed Hague smiling and another had him sitting next to Russia’s space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin.
Dzhezkazgan is about 450 kilometers northeast of Baikonur, and spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said all manned launches will be suspended pending an investigation into the cause of the failure. He added that Russia will fully share all relevant information with the U.S.
Earlier this week, Bridenstine emphasized that collaboration with Russia’s Roscosmos remains important.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, but they have maintained cooperation in space research.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the International Space Station following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet. Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon v2 and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsules.
The last time the Russian space program had a manned launch failure was in 1983. Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov jettisoned and landed safely near the launch pad after the Soyuz explosion.
Russia has continued to rely on Soviet-designed booster rockets for launching commercial satellites, as well as crews and cargo to the International Space Station.
While Russian rockets had earned a stellar reputation for their reliability in the past, a string of failed launches in recent years has called into doubt Russia’s ability to maintain the same high standards of manufacturing.
Glitches found in Russia’s Proton and Soyuz rockets in 2016 were traced to manufacturing flaws at the plant in Voronezh. Roscosmos sent more than 70 rocket engines back to production lines to replace faulty components, a move that resulted in a yearlong break in Proton launches and badly dented Russia’s niche in the global market for commercial satellite launches.
In August, the International Space Station crew spotted a hole in a Russian Soyuz capsule docked to the orbiting outpost that caused a brief loss of air pressure before being patched.
Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has raised wide concern by saying that the leak was a drill hole that was made intentionally during manufacturing or in orbit. He didn’t say if he suspected any of the current crew — an American, a Russian and a German aboard the station. The current crew’s stint in orbit will likely be extended following Thursday’s aborted launch.
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — Two astronauts from the U.S. and Russia were safe after an emergency landing Thursday in the steppes of Kazakhstan following the failure of a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague of Hoxie, Kansas and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2:40 p.m. (0840 GMT; 4:40 a.m. EDT) Thursday from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket. Roscosmos and NASA said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown of its second stage. The capsule jettisoned from the booster and went into a ballistic descent, landing at a sharper than normal angle.
Search and rescue crews have deployed to the Soyuz landing site and are in contact with the two crew members, one America and one Russian, who are in good condition. We await further word from the search and rescue team. Latest updates: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/iztvONjyVx
— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2018
The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space program, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents.
“Thank God, the crew is alive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when it became clear that the crew had landed safely.
They were to dock at the orbiting outpost six hours later, but the booster suffered a failure minutes after the launch.
NASA and Russian Roscosmos space agency said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 12 miles east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) October 11, 2018
Search and rescue teams were heading to the area to recover the crew. Dzhezkazgan is about 280 miles northeast of Baikonur. Spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.