Russia says that a problem with the separation of first and second stage booster rockets was to blame for Thursday’s failed Soyuz launch.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin made a dramatic escape shortly after Thursday’s launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Sergei Krikalyov, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos' manned programs, said the launch went awry after one of the rocket's four boosters failed to jettison about two minutes into the flight. The failure damaged the main stage and triggered the emergency landing.
US, RUSSIAN ASTRONAUTS MAKE DANGEROUS BALLISTIC RE-ENTRY INTO EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE AFTER ROCKET FAILS
The spacecraft was about 30 miles above Earth’s surface when the crew was forced to make a dangerous “ballistic re-entry” into Earth’s atmosphere. After the successful deployment of its parachute, the rescue capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 30 minutes after the rocket failure.
Hague and Ovchinin had been scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station Thursday.
While the crew endured higher than normal G-force during their ordeal, Russian and U.S. space officials say they are in good condition.
Images show the Soyuz-FG rocket booster lifting the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft high into the sky before Thursday’s mission was abandoned. European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, who is currently on the ISS, also tweeted a picture of the launch taken from the orbiting space lab.
“Today showed again what an amazing vehicle the #Soyuz is, to be able to safe [sic] the crew from such a failure. Spaceflight is hard. And we must keep trying for the benefit of humankind,” he wrote.
Nonetheless, the aborted mission dealt another blow to the troubled Russian space program that currently serves as the only way to deliver astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
The Russian program has been dogged by a string of problems with unmanned launches in recent years. Space.com notes that Russia lost a $45 million weather satellite last year as a result of a programming error. The satellite went into the wrong orbit when the wrong coordinates were used, according to the Guardian.
In 2011, an eagerly-anticipated Russian probe to Mars was lost when it failed to follow its intended course. A year earlier, a rocket carrying three communications satellites fell into the Pacific Ocean.
However, Thursday's incident was the first manned failure for Russia since September 1983, when an earlier version of Soyuz exploded on the launch pad. In that incident, a Launch Escape System saved the two crewmembers.
The country’s space program has been in the spotlight. Russia recently described a hole found on the space station as likely an act of sabotage.
Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to get astronauts to the Space Station. NASA pays up to $82 million per Soyuz seat to the orbiting space lab.
The U.S. space agency, however, is planning to launch manned missions from American soil in the coming years. The space agency recently announced the nine astronauts that will crew the test flights and first missions of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Roscosmos pledged to fully share all relevant information from Thursday’s failed launch with NASA.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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