Rus­sia space chiefs call in cops

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

BAIKONUR: Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tors have launched a probe into why a Soyuz rocket failed shortly af­ter blast-off, in a set­back for Rus­sia’s be­lea­guered space in­dus­try.

US as­tro­naut Nick Hague and Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Aleksey Ov­chinin were forced to make an emer­gency land­ing on Thurs­day, but were res­cued with­out in­jury in Kaza­khstan.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials said they were launch­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­ci­dent, the first such in­ci­dent on a manned flight in the coun­try’s post-Soviet his­tory.

The Rus­sian space in­dus­try has suf­fered a se­ries of prob­lems , in­clud­ing the loss of satel­lites and space­craft. Of­fi­cials said they would sus­pend manned launches in light of the lat­est ac­ci­dent.

“The emer­gency res­cue sys­tem worked, the ves­sel was able to land in Kaza­khstan ... the crew are alive,” the Rus­sian space agency Roscos­mos said in a tweet.

“An ac­ci­dent with the booster, two min­utes, 45 sec­onds,” the voice of Ma­jor Ov­chinin could be heard say­ing calmly in livestreamed footage of the launch from Kaza­khstan’s Baikonur cos­mod­rome.

The in­ci­dent came as the rocket was trav­el­ling about 7500km/h, 119 sec­onds into the voy­age to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

“Shortly af­ter launch, there was an anom­aly with the booster and the launch as­cent was aborted, re­sult­ing in a bal­lis­tic land­ing of the space­craft,” NASA said.

The de­scent was sharper than usual, mean­ing the crew were sub­jected to a greater G-force, but they were pre­pared for this sce­nario in train­ing.

“We’re tight­en­ing our seat­belts,” Ma­jor Ov­chinin said in the video. “That was a short flight.”

Res­cue work­ers reached the site of the emer­gency land­ing and evac­u­ated Ma­jor Ov­chinin and Colonel Hague.

Pho­tos re­leased by the Rus­sian govern­ment and NASA later showed the men em­brac­ing their fam­i­lies and en­joy­ing a hearty Rus­sian meal back on the ground.

Rus­sia is the only coun­try tak­ing crew to and from the ISS. The Euro­pean Space Agency, whose as­tro­naut Alexan­der Gerst is on the ISS, said that “the aborted launch will have in­flu­ence on the plan­ning for the near fu­ture”.

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”.

“As we wait for the con­clu­sions of a Rus­sian probe, the Soyuz will per­haps be grounded for some time,” he said.

Rus­sia’s In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit- tee said a crim­i­nal probe would seek to de­ter­mine whether safety reg­u­la­tions had been vi­o­lated dur­ing con­struc­tion, caus­ing ma­jor dam­age. “Of­fi­cials are cur­rently ex­am­in­ing the launch site, doc­u­ments are be­ing seized,” it said.

“Thank God the cos­mo­nauts are alive,” said Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

ISS op­er­a­tions in­te­gra­tion man­ager Kenny Todd said he “had ev­ery con­fi­dence that our Rus­sian col­leagues will fig­ure out what’s go­ing on”.

There have been two sim­i­lar Soviet-era ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing the Soyuz space­craft, which are still used to ferry crews to and from the ISS. In 1975, Oleg Makarov and Vasily Lazarev made a suc­cess­ful emer­gency land­ing in Siberia’s Al­tai moun­tains af­ter prob­lems dur­ing booster sep­a­ra­tion.

Vladimir Ti­tov and Gen­nady Strekalov sur­vived a fire dur­ing a launch in Kaza­khstan in 1983.

Former mil­i­tary pilots Ma­jor Ov­chinin and Colonel Hague had been set to join the ESA’s Gerst, NASA’s Ser­ena Aunon-Chan­cel­lor and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscos­mos fol­low­ing a six-hour flight.

The ISS — a rare point of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Moscow and Wash­ing­ton — has been or­bit­ing Earth since 1998. But even the space sta­tion has proved a source of con­tro­versy. Rus­sian space of­fi­cials have said they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether a hole that caused an oxy­gen leak on the ISS was drilled de­lib­er­ately by as­tro­nauts.

The hole was de­tected in Au­gust and quickly sealed up, but Rus­sian news­pa­pers said Roscos­mos was prob­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that US crew­mates had sab­o­taged the space sta­tion to get a sick col­league sent back home.

Roscos­mos head Dmitry Ro­gozin said yes­ter­day a “thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion” was needed af­ter the failed launch. “It’s a dra­matic sit­u­a­tion but it was pos­si­ble to avoid a very much worse turn of events,” he said.

Mr Ro­gozin has sug­gested US as­tro­nauts should use tram­po­lines in­stead of Rus­sian rock­ets to reach the ISS af­ter Wash­ing­ton im­posed sanc­tions over Moscow’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

‘We’re tight­en­ing our seat­belts. That was a short flight’


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