Two astronauts from the US and Russia are safe after an emergency landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan following the failure of a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin lifted off on Thursday from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket.
Roscosmos and NASA said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown of its second stage. The capsule jettisoned from the booster and went into a ballistic descent, landing at a sharper than normal angle and subjecting the crew to heavy G-loads.
NASA said rescue teams have reached Hague and Ovchinin and they’ve been taken out of the capsule and were in good condition.
The capsule landed about 20km east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space program, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents in recent years.
“Thank God, the crew is alive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters when it became clear that the crew had landed safely.
The astronauts were to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch, but the Soyuz booster suffered an unspecified failure and shut down minutes after the launch.
Search and rescue teams were immediately scrambled to recover the crew and other paratroopers were dropped from a plane to reach the site and help the rescue effort. Dzhezkazgan is about 450km northeast of Baikonur. Spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.
It was to be the first space mission for Hague, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013. Ovchinin spent six months on the orbiting outpost in 2016.
Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, who watched the launch together with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, tweeted that a panel has been set up to investigate the cause of the booster failure.