Astronauts crash land to Earth after major rocket malfunction on way to ISS

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 11 October 2018 11:11 BST
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Nasa's Expedition 57 takes off on mission to the International Space Station

Two astronauts have crash-landed after a malfunction with a rocket during their ascent to reach the International Space Station.

The capsule carrying the US and Russian crew members was forced into a “ballistic descent”. Footage from inside the Soyuz showed the two men inside being shaken around, with their arms and legs flailing, following the malfunction.

Emergency search-and-rescue found the pair unhurt.

Nasa astronaut Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin, of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, lifted off as scheduled on Thursday afternoon from the Russia-controlled Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, atop a Soyuz booster rocket.

They were due to dock at the orbiting outpost six hours later, but the booster suffered a failure minutes after the launch. A major operation was triggered when flight controllers identified the problem.

The astronauts conducted an emergency landing by jettisoning the booster and switching into ballistic descent mode, in which the rocket comes in at a much sharper angle than normal, allowing the craft to head as quickly as possible to the ground.

Nasa and Roscosmos said the astronauts were in good health after their capsule landed about 12 miles east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, about 280 miles northeast of Baikonur. Spacecraft returning from the International Space Station tend to land in that region.

The crew on board the ISS have been informed of the emergency, Nasa said.

The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space programme, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents.

“Thank God, the crew is alive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.

Relations between the leaders of the Russian and American space programmes are already strained. After a leak was discovered in the International Space Station at the end of August, numerous accusations have been made about who is at fault – including suggestions from Russian officials that Nasa astronauts might have made the hole in the floating lab intentionally.

Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter that he had already launched an investigation into the failure of the Soyuz-FG rocket. That work had “already started” and was exploring telemetry data to find the cause of the crash, he said.

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