American, Russian crew members jettison to safety after rocket failure on mission to space station
October 11 at 11:12 AM
MOSCOW â" A Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned shortly after liftoff Thursday on a mission to the International Space Station, forcing the two-member crew â" an American and Russian â" to trigger an escape system that sent them on a hurtling emergency landing 200 miles away in the steppes of Khazkhstan.
The two astronauts were not harmed, but the failure of the normally reliable Soyuz MS-10 rocket will likely extend the time in orbit for the crew aboard the International Space Station, which relies on Russian rockets as its sole lifeline.
The Soyuz rocket was about two minutes into its flight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome when an unspecified problem occurred during the shift to the second stage.
âFailure of the booster,â a translator called out at mission control near Moscow, according to a transcript on R ussian state TV.
Seconds later, the escape capsule jettisoned carrying U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. The parachutes deployed properly, but the capsule was on trajectory described as a steep âballisticâ descent that put Hague and Ovchinin under more than six times the force of gravity, NASA and Russiaâs space agency said.
âWe are getting ready for the G loads,â Ovchinin reported to mission control. âG load is 6.7.â
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin board the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft before the launch at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 11, 2018. (Yuri Kochetkov/AFP/Getty Images)
The gray-colored capsule tumbled onto grassy flatlands more than 200 miles from the launchpad.
On the orbiting space station, the thre e crew members â" an American, German and Russian â" were kept informed of the events on Earth.
âThe boys have landed,â mission control told the astronauts, who arrived at the space station in June and were scheduled to return Dec. 13.
âThank God the crew is alive,â said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
âShortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted,â NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
Smoke rise as the boosters of first stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz MS-10 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station on Oct. 11, 2018. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)
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Russiaâs Interfax news agency, citing sources in Russiaâs space program, said the space stat ion crew will likely have to wait until early next year before another mission can be planned to bring supplies and take them home.
Russian officials said manned space launches have been suspended pending an investigation into the malfunction. Interfax also said all unmanned launches could be halted for the rest of the year, citing space program sources.
Space is a rare area of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, whose ties have deteriorated to lows not seen since the Cold War over issues such as Russian election interference and the crises in Syria and Ukraine.
Thursdayâs accident also comes as both nations remain at odds over the cause of a small hole discovered on the Soyuz MS-09 module attached to the International Space Station in August.
Moscow says the hole is the result of deliberate drilling and has suggested sabotage, while the U.S. space agency said earlier this week that investigators will determine the cause.
Roscosmos, Russi aâs state-run space agency, released a video of Hague and Ovchinin exiting a van after a medical checkup at Dzhezkazgan airport in Kazakhstan.
NASA described them as being in good condition. The two men, smiling, were then shown climbing into an aircraft. They were flown back to Baikonur, where they would spend the night in a hospital for further medical checks.
Russian controllers told the space station astronauts that Hague and Ovchinin endured 6.7 times the force of gravity during their steeper than usual escape descent, the Associated Press reported. It was Hagueâs first rocket launch.
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It was the first time that the Soyuz â" the main workhorse of manned space flight today â" had failed on a launch to the 20-year-old International Space Station. The spacecraft has been the sole means of bringing humans to the space station since the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, but U.S.-based commercial providers aiming for manned spaceflight are increasingly nipping at Russiaâs heels.
Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin said he was forming a state commission to investigate what caused the failure.
A manufacturing error could be to blame, Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed Russian space expert as saying. âThey may have made a mistake at the factory or the cosmodrome while attaching the side segments to the central one,â he said.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, who oversees space flight, promised to share all information from the investigation with the United States and said that manned space launches would be suspended until the end of the probe, according to Russian news agencies.
Russian officials have also insisted on a bigger role in a U.S.-led plan to build a space station orbiting the moon.
The failure on Thursday puts tremendous pressure on NASA and the two companies â" SpaceX and Boeing â" it has hire d to fly its astronauts to the space station. Since the space shuttle retired in 2011, NASA has been unable to fly humans to space and has had to rely on Russia.
In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop vehicles capable of ferrying astronauts to the station. But both companies have faced repeated delays and NASA recently announced that neither would fly even an uncrewed test flight this year, and that the first flights with astronauts on board wouldnât happen until the middle of 2019.
Currently, NASA has access to the Soyuz through early 2020. But the delays in nasaâs so-called âcommercial crew programâ have concerned some that if the companies canât get their vehicles ready, the space agency wonât have any way to get its astronauts to space.
In June, the spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system, offi cials discovered a propellant leak.
SpaceX has also suffered setbacks, but says it is ready to fly its first test mission to the station â" without astronauts â" in January.
Still, Phil McAlister, who oversees the commercial crew program for NASA, recently warned that âlaunch dates will still have some uncertainty, and we anticipate they may change as we get closer to launch. These are new spacecraft, and the engineering teams have a lot of work to do before the systems will be ready to fly.â
The last time Moscowâs space program had a manned launch failure was during the Soviet era in 1983 when a Soyuz booster exploded. Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov jettisoned and landed safely near the launchpad.
Christian Davenport in Los Angeles and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
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