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

Science

Astronauts have crash landed on the ground after a major malfunction with a rocket carrying them to the International Space Station.

The capsule carrying the crew went into “ballistic descent mode” as it headed towards the ground for a crash landing, crew have said. Footage from inside the Soyuz showed the two astronauts inside being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.

Emergency search and rescue crews are headed to the location of the landing, Nasa said.

Astronauts had made their way safely to the ground and are in communication with the rescue forces. But it will take some time to actually reach them where they are, after the emergency landing.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin had lifted off as scheduled on Thursday afternoon from the Russia-controlled Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket. 

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

It was then that the astronauts conducted an emergency landing by separating from the booster and switching into ballistic descent mode. That means 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 Russian Roscosmos space agency said the astronauts were in good condition 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 ISS normally land in that region. 

The crew on board the International Space Station have been informed of the emergency, Nasa said.

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. 

“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.

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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