Investigation begins into rocket mission failure
The problem came two minutes into the flight: The rocket carrying an American and a Russian to the International Space Station failed Thursday, triggering an emergency that sent their capsule into a steep, harrowing fall back to Earth.
The crew landed safely on the steppes of Kazakhstan, but the aborted mission dealt another blow to the troubled Russian space program that currently serves as the only way to deliver astronauts to the orbiting outpost. It also was the first such accident for Russia’s manned program in over three decades.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin had a brief period of weightlessness when the capsule separated from the malfunctioning Soyuz rocket at an altitude of about 50km, then endured gravitational forces of seven times more than on Earth as they came down at a sharper-than-normal angle.
About a half-hour later, the capsule parachuted onto a barren area about 20km east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
“Thank God the crew is alive,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
All Russian manned launches were suspended pending an investigation into the failure, said Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov.
New NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who watched the launch at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome with his Russian counterpart, said Hague and Ovchinin were in good condition. He added that a “thorough investigation” will be conducted.
Astronauts Hague, 43, and Ovchinin, 47, were to dock at the space station six hours after lift off and join an American, a Russian and a German on board.
But the three-stage Soyuz rocket suffered an unspecified failure of its second stage two minutes after launch.
Russian news reports indicated that one of its four first-stage engines might have failed to jettison in sync with others, resulting in the second stage’s shutdown and activating the automatic emergency rescue system.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin plummeted back to earth after their Soyuz rocket malfunctioned.