Rus­sian rocket fails in mid-air, two-man crew lands safely

US’ Nick Hague, Rus­sian’s Alexei Ov­chinin head­ing to In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion

Financial Chronicle - - MISCELLANY -

THE two-man US-Rus­sian crew of a Soyuz space­craft tak­ing them to the or­bit­ing In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion had to make a dra­matic emer­gency land­ing in Kaza­khstan on Thurs­day when a rocket failed in mid-air.

US as­tro­naut Nick Hague and Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Alexei Ov­chinin (pic in­set) landed safely with­out harm and res­cue crews who raced to lo­cate them on the Kazakh steppe quickly linked up with them, NASA, the US space agency, and Rus­sia’s Roscos­mos said.

The Soyuz cap­sule car­ry­ing them sep­a­rated from the mal­func­tion­ing rocket and made what is called a steep bal­lis­tic des­cent with para­chutes help­ing slow its speed. Para­troop­ers parachuted to the res­cue site, TASS news agency re­ported. Nei­ther man needed med­i­cal treat­ment and NASA TV said both were fine.

The prob­lem oc­curred when a booster rocket on the Soyuz-FG launch ve­hi­cle, launched from the Soviet-era cos­mod­rome of Baikonur in the cen­tral Asian coun­try, failed in some way, NASA said.

Rus­sian deputy prime min­is­ter Yuri Borisov, quoted by In­ter­fax, said the prob­lem oc­curred when the first and sec­ond stages of the booster rocket were in the process of sep­a­rat­ing. Footage from in­side the Soyuz showed the two men be­ing shaken around at the mo­ment the fail­ure oc­curred, with their arms and legs flail­ing. Res­cue crews were quick to reach the site where Hague and Ov­chinin came down, Rus­sian news agen­cies said. “Res­cue forces are in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Nick Hague and Alexei Ov­chinin and we are hear­ing that they are in good con­di­tion,” NASA TV said.

Rus­sia im­me­di­ately sus­pended all manned space launches and Rosco­mosmos chief Dmitry Ro­gozin said he had or­dered a state com­mis­sion to be set up to in­ves­ti­gate what had gone wrong, ac­cord­ing to RIA news agency. The fail­ure is a set­back for the Rus­sian space pro­gram and the lat­est in a string of mishaps.

In Au­gust, a hole ap­peared in a Soyuz cap­sule al­ready docked to the ISS which caused a brief loss of air pres­sure and had to be patched. Ro­gozin has said it could have been sab­o­tage.

For now, the United States re­lies on Moscow to carry its as­tro­nauts to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) which was launched 20 years ago. NASA ten­ta­tively plans to send its first crew to the ISS us­ing a SpaceX craft in­stead of a Soyuz next April.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters that the most im­por­tant thing was that the two men were alive.

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. It can hold a crew of up to six peo­ple. “Res­cue ser­vices have been work­ing since the first sec­ond of the ac­ci­dent,” Ro­gozin tweeted.

“The emer­gency res­cue sys­tems of the MS-Soyuz space­craft worked smoothly. The crew has been saved.”

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

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