Russia stops sending people to space as it launches investigation into major rocket malfunction

Science

Russia has suspended crewed rocket launches as it investigates the cause of a major malfunction that led to astronauts undergoing a crash landing.

It puts the International Space Station and other work under question, since astronauts sent on those missions go from the Russian cosmodrome and use its rockets to head into space.

The crew on board will probably be able to make their way safely down on the capsules that are currently docked at the space station. But the astronauts that were heading up on the failed mission were an important addition to the crew, which is currently only made up of three people.

After the US Space Shuttle programme was shut down in the wake of its own emergencies, it left Russia’s Soyuz rockets as the only vehicle that can carry crews into space.

Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of the SpaceX’s Dragon v2 and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsules.

Thursday’s failure was the first manned launch failure for the Russian space programme since September 1983 when a Soyuz exploded on the launch pad. Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov jettisoned and landed safely near the launch pad.

Russia has continued to rely on Soviet-designed booster rockets to launch commercial satellites, as well as crews and cargo to the International Space Station.

While Russian rockets had earned a stellar reputation for their reliability in the past, a string of failed launches in recent years has called into doubt Russia’s ability to maintain the same high standards of manufacturing.

Additional reporting by agencies

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