A Russian cosmonaut and a US astronaut were safe after a Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station failed in mid-air two minutes after liftoff in Kazakhstan, leading to a dramatic emergency landing, Reuters reports.
The two-man crew, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and American Nick Hague, landed unharmed on the Kazakh desert steppe as rescue crews raced to reach them, according to the US space agency NASA and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.
The mishap occurred as the first and second stages of a Russian booster rocket separated shortly after the launch from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.
The Soyuz capsule carrying Ovchinin and Hague separated from the malfunctioning Russian rocket and plunged 31 miles (50 kilometers) down to the surface, with parachutes helping to slow its speed, NASA said. A cloud of sand billowed up as the capsule landed after what NASA called a 34-minute steep ballistic descent.
Video from inside the capsule showed the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing. Ovchinin can be heard saying, “That was a quick flight.”
Photographs released by Roscosmos after the rescue showed the two men smiling and relaxing on sofas at a town near their landing site as they underwent medical tests.
A photograph posted on Twitter by NASA showed Ovchinin and Hague embracing their families after being transported back to the Baikonur site.
Rescue crews raced to the scene to retrieve them from their landing spot, including paratroopers, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, NASA said.
NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, although the agency has announced plans for a test flight carrying two astronauts on a SpaceX commercial rocket next April.
Space is an area of cooperation between the US and Russia at a time of fraught relations. Asked about the mishap, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was “not worried” that American astronauts have to rely on Russia to get into space.
Thursday’s mishap was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion
Moscow immediately suspended all manned space launches, the RIA news agency reported, while Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he ordered a state commission to be created to investigate what went wrong.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said it opened a criminal investigation into the matter.
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