Soyuz rocket carrying US, Russian astronauts to ISS malfunctions during launch

Two astronauts make emergency landing after Russian rocket malfunctions during lift-off

Russia's Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft lifts off from the Baikanur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday | Kirill Kudryavtsev AFP

A booster rocket failed less than two minutes after launching an American and a Russian toward the International Space Station on Thursday, forcing their emergency - but safe - landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Footage from inside the Soyuz had shown the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.

Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the US has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to get astronauts to the Space Station.

The Soyuz was scheduled to fly a shortened, six-hour flight trajectory that would have orbited the Earth four times before reaching the International Space Station.

"Teams have been in contact with the crew". Those questions not only include what happened to make the Soyuz launch fail, but how NASA, Roscosmos, and the ESA will need to change the ISS schedule to accommodate today's failure.

The Russian space industry has suffered a series of problems in recent years, including the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.

"Thank god, the cosmonauts are alive", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Thursday's mishap was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion. This would allow them to remain aboard the Station for another six months, hopefully enough time to complete the accident investigation and resume normal launches. Everything had been going quite smoothly for Roscosmos ahead of the freaky hole discovered in one of their Soyuz spacecraft which was (and still is) attached to the International Space Station.

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The Soyuz capsule carrying Ovchinin and Hague separated from the malfunctioning Russian rocket and plunged 31 miles (50 km) down to the surface, with parachutes helping to slow its speed, NASA said.

A state commission set up by Roscosmos to investigate the cause of the incidence is already hard at work assessing telemetry.

USA and Russian space officials said the astronauts are in good condition after Thursday's aborted launch. Bridenstine attended the launch at Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome with Rogozin as part of an effort to mend relations between the two space superpowers strained by NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is on site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where he had been on hand to watch the launch and meet with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Rogozin.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2:40 p.m. (0840 GMT; 4:40 a.m. EDT) Thursday from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket.

While there is another Soyuz capsule docked at the station, Hadfield said using it to send the current crew home would not be under consideration. The hole cause a small oxygen leak while hooked up to the ISS.

The rocket's emergency abort system took over at that point, ejecting the Soyuz capsule, which carried the two-man crew on a harrowing ride back down to Earth.

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