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American, Russian alive after Soyuz rocket headed to space station fails on launch

American, Russian alive after Soyuz rocket headed to space station fails on launch

A Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned shortly after liftoff Thursday on a mission to the International Space Station, forcing the two-member crew — an American and Russian — to trigger an escape system that sent them on a dramatic emergency landing 200 miles away in the steppes of Khazkhstan.

The two astronauts were not harmed, but the failure of the normally reliable Soyuz booster raises a host a complications including leaving the crew on the International Space Station temporarily without a supply lifeline.

The capsule carrying U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin parachuted to the ground safely in an escape trajectory described as a steep “ballistic” descent with more than six times the force of gravity, NASA and Russia’s space agency said.

They were met by rescue teams in a remote part of Kazakhstan more than 200 miles from their launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. 

Manned space launches have been suspended pending an investigation.

Space is a rare area of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, whose ties have deteriorated to lows not seen since the days of the Cold War, as the two spar over election interference and the crises in Syria and Ukraine. 

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)

Thursday’s accident also comes as the two trade barbs over the cause of a small hole in the Soyuz MS-09 module attached to the International Space Station. That mystery, first discovered by NASA in August, continues to unravel.

Moscow says it 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, Russia’s 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 despite being exposed to higher than usual gravity forces during their descent. The two men, gently smiling, were then shown climbing into an aircraft. They will shortly be flown back to Baikonur. 

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)

On the space station, the three crew members — an American, German and Russian — were kept informed of the events on Earth.

“The boys have landed,” Mission Control assured the crew after the escape capsule touched down.

Russian controllers told the space station astronauts that NASA’s Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin endured 6.7 times the force of gravity during their steeper than usual escape descent, the Associated Press reported. It was Hague’s first rocket launch.

It was the first time that the Soyuz — the main workhorse of manned space flight today — 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 commercial providers aiming for manned spaceflight are increasingly nipping at Russia’s heels. 

“Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.  

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, put it more bluntly in his daily conference call with journalists: “Thank God everyone is alive.”

After the booster failed, Ovchinin and Hague were forced to make a ballistic descent, coming back to the ground at a sharper angle than normal and causing higher gravitational forces on their bodies.  

After their rescue, Hague and Ovchinin were set to be airlifted to a space flight training center outside of Moscow. 

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. “They may have made a mistake at the factory or the cosmodrome while attaching the side segments to the central one,” 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. 

Apsny News English


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