U.S., Rus­sian as­tro­nauts safe af­ter emer­gency land­ing

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - DMITRY LOVET­SKY

BAIKONUR, KAZA­KHSTAN — 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.

It was the lat­est in a re­cent se­ries of fail­ures for the trou­bled Rus­sian space pro­gram, which is used by the U.S. to carry its as­tro­nauts to the sta­tion.

NASA as­tro­naut Nick Hague and Roscos­mos’ Alexei Ov­chinin were sub­jected to heavy grav­i­ta­tional forces as their cap­sule au­to­mat­i­cally jet­ti­soned from the Soyuz booster rocket and fell back to Earth at a sharper-thannor­mal an­gle and landed about 20 kilo­me­tres east of the city of Dzhezkaz­gan in Kaza­khstan.

“Thank God the crew is alive,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, when it be­came clear that they had landed safely. He added that the pres­i­dent is re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar up­dates about the sit­u­a­tion.

NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine, who watched the launch at the Rus­sian-leased Baikonur cos­mod­rome along with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, tweeted that Hague and Ov­chinin are in good con­di­tion. He added that a “thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the in­ci­dent will be con­ducted.”

Hague, 43, and Ov­chinin, 47, lifted off as sched­uled at 2:40 p.m. Thurs­day from Baikonur. The as­tro­nauts were to dock at the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion six hours af­ter the launch and join an Amer­i­can, a Rus­sian and a Ger­man cur­rently aboard the sta­tion.

But the three-stage Soyuz booster suf­fered an un­spec­i­fied fail­ure of its sec­ond stage about two min­utes af­ter launch­ing. Search and res­cue teams were im­me­di­ately scram­bled to re­cover the crew, and para­troop­ers were dropped from a plane to reach the site quickly. While the Rus­sian space pro­gram has been dogged by a string of launch fail­ures and other in­ci­dents in re­cent years, Thurs­day’s mishap marked the pro­gram’s first manned launch fail­ure since Septem­ber 1983, when a Soyuz ex­ploded on the launch pad.

It was to be the first space mis­sion for Hague, who joined NASA’s as­tro­naut corps in 2013. Ov­chinin spent six months on the or­bit­ing out­post in 2016. The as­tro­nauts were flown by he­li­copter to Dzhezkaz­gan and then by plane to Baikonur. Rus­sian of­fi­cials said they may spend the night in Baikonur be­fore be­ing flown to Star City, Rus­sia’s space train­ing cen­tre out­side Moscow, the Tass news agency said.

NASA posted pic­tures of

Hague and Ov­chinin un­der­go­ing a med­i­cal checkup at Dzhezkaz­gan’s air­port. One of the pic­tures showed Hague smil­ing and an­other had him sit­ting next to Rus­sia’s space agency chief Dmitry Ro­gozin.

Dzhezkaz­gan is about 450 kilo­me­tres north­east of Baikonur, and space­craft re­turn­ing from the ISS nor­mally land in that re­gion. Flight con­trollers kept the three space sta­tion res­i­dents abreast of the sit­u­a­tion af­ter Thurs­day’s aborted launch.

“The boys have landed,” Mis­sion Con­trol as­sured the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion crew.

Rus­sian con­trollers told the space sta­tion as­tro­nauts that Hague and Ov­chinin en­dured 6.7 times the force of grav­ity dur­ing their en­try.

“Glad our friends are fine,” space sta­tion com­man­der Alexan­der Gerst, a Eu­ro­pean Space Agency as­tro­naut from Ger­many, tweeted from or­bit. “Space flight is hard. And we must keep try­ing for the ben­e­fit of hu­mankind.”

There was no im­me­di­ate word on whether the space sta­tion crew might need to ex­tend its own six-month mis­sion.

COURTESY RUS­SIAN DE­FENSE MIN­ISTRY PRESS SER­VICE THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The res­cue team gather next to the Soyuz MS-10 space cap­sule af­ter it made an emer­gency land­ing in a field.

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