Russian Federation opens criminal probe over failed rocket launch

Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin (R) and US astronaut Nick Hague (L) disembark from a plane, after the "Soyuz" spacecraft made an emergency landing following a failure of its booster rockets, as they arrive at Baikonur airport, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018.

NASA Astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are on their way back to Earth after the rocket they were traveling in experienced a booster engine failure shortly after launch on Thursday.

A Reuters reporter who observed the launch from around 1 km away said it had gone smoothly in its initial stages and that the failure of the booster rocket must have occurred at higher altitude.

Two astronauts from the USA and Russia were safe Thursday after an emergency landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan following the failure of a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station.

"Search and rescue teams report they are in contact with the Soyuz crew, who report they are in good condition", Nasa wrote on Twitter.

Unnamed Russian space industry sources cited by news agencies said it would be hard to establish what had caused the incident because the booster rocket segments involved had been badly damaged in their fall.

Thursday's failure was the first manned launch failure for the Russian space program 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, surviving the heavy G-loads without injuries.

Had the launch gone smoothly, Ovchinin and Hague would have reached the space station later today.

"The emergency rescue system worked, the vessel was able to land in Kazakhstan. the crew are alive", Roscosmos said in a tweet.

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully.

The crew members of Expedition 57 are conducting experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the International Space Station.

Earlier this week, Bridenstine emphasized that collaboration with Russia's Roscosmos remains important. Russian Federation stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon v2 and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.

Russian Federation was forming a state commission to investigate the Soyuz launch incident, Nasa said. For years, since NASA's final shuttle mission launched in 2011, the USA has relied on Russian rockets to send astronauts to the International Space Station, which is largely funded by America taxpayer dollars.

Glitches found in Russia's Proton and Soyuz rockets in 2016 were traced to manufacturing flaws at the plant in Voronezh.

The crew were returning to Earth in "a ballistic descent mode", according to Nasa.

The ISS, launched in 1998, is a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit which is used to carry out scientific and space-related tests.

Stefan Beransky, editor of the specialist Aerospatium magazine and author of a book on the Soyuz rocket, said now "the main problem is that there are two fewer people at the station".

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