Astronauts make emergency landing after Russian rocket carrying them to International Space Station fails
An American and Russian astronaut have survived an emergency landing in Kazakhstan after the Soyuz rocket carrying them to the International Space Station failed in mid-flight.
The latest in a long string of Russian rocket crashes, Thursday’s star-crossed flight is yet another black eye for the Roscosmos space agency, which remains the only reliable way to get to the ISS.
The Russian-made rocket began to plummet to earth a little more than two minutes into the six-hour mission due to a “vehicle malfunction”.
The engines were seen to cut out in the air, after which the Soyuz MS-10 spaceship holding Russian commander Alexei Ovchinin and Nasa astronaut Nick Hague jettisoned from the drifting launch vehicle.
An internal camera showed the capsule jerking the pair around violently as the flight malfunctioned.
The video link broke off and the pair plunged toward the ground in “ballistic descent mode,” experiencing gravitational forces six times normal.
The capsule’s parachute deployed successfully, however, landing them on the grassy steppe near Zhezkazgan, about 250 miles from the Baikonur cosmodrome rented by Russia. State media showed rescuers helping the two crew members into a helicopter, and Nasa said the men were in good condition.
“Vehicle malfunction. That was a quick flight,” Mr Ovchinin declared dryly over the radio at the beginning of the emergency descent.
The crash comes after Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin accused Elon Musk of conspiring with the Pentagon to force other players out of the space industry and suggested that international astronauts had sabotaged the ISS by drilling the hole found in its hull.
Adding to the embarrassment was a string of tweets by Roscosmos detailing the successful completion of three launch stages that never actually happened.
The agency later deleted tweets with false information such as “287 seconds: The second stage successfully jettisoned”.
Russia's space agency has deleted the tweets detailing the successful launch that didn't actually happen, but here are screenshots. The ship had crashed before the second stage could "jettison normally at 287 seconds" pic.twitter.com/AD8o4MPPjI
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) October 11, 2018
After a normal liftoff from the same launchpad from where Yury Gagarin began the first manned space flight, the accident occurred amid the transition from the four large launch boosters to the next set of engines.
“Thank God the crew is alive,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said.
“According to preliminary information, the cause [of the crash] came during the separation of the first stage from the second stage,” Yury Borisov, deputy prime minister for the military industrial complex, told reporters. “A special commission will get to the bottom of this.”
A Nasa statement blamed an “anomaly with the booster” for the incident and promised a thorough investigation.
Astronauts emergency landing location – Kazakhstan
Part of the second stage may have gotten caught on the first due to “poor fastening,” pushing the craft off-course and causing the emergency shutdown of the engines, Interfax news agency quoted a space industry source as saying.
Further Roscosmos launches have been suspended, Mr Borisov said. Another two-man Russian-American crew had been scheduled to set out for the space station on 20 December.
An American, a Russian and a German astronaut who had planned to return from the ISS on the Soyuz MS-10 ship will have to reconsider their plans.
Besides the two astronauts, the crashed rocket had been carrying supplies, but the ISS has enough reserves for another six months of operations.
Roscosmos tweeted photographs of Mr Rogozin speaking with Mr Hague and Mr Ovchinin while they relaxed on couches with blood pressure and pulse monitors on their arms. After a medical examination they would fly back to Moscow, it said.
Russian experts said the astronauts, both former military pilots, had been trained to withstand even more intense g-forces.
A lengthening list of accidents has raised doubts about the state of Russia’s space programme. In a gross human error, an unmanned Soyuz rocket launched from Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome in November crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after it was programmed with the launch coordinates for Baikonur.
The disaster, which came after Mr Rogozin had declared the mission a success, destroyed 19 international satellites worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Russian unmanned cargo rockets of different designs crashed in 2016, 2015 and 2014.
In 2013, a Proton-M rocket carrying three satellites for the Glonass navigation system, Russia’s rival to GPS, burst into flames and slammed into the crowd on live television.
Mr Rogozin, who was sanctioned by the United States and European Union in 2014 over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine crisis, lost his position as deputy prime minister this year but retained much of his influence with the appointment as head of Roscosmos.
Speaking to state television on Thursday, he praised the "calm actions" of the crew and ground controllers but said conclusions about the crash could only come later.
The ISS, which has been circling the earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour since 1998, is one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between Moscow and Washington amid rising political tensions.
Mr Hague was born in 1975, the year the United States and Soviet Union launched their first joint space mission.