Astronauts cheat death as rocket plunges to earth
Two astronauts have survived an emergency landing in Kazakhstan after the Soyuz rocket carrying them to the International Space Station (ISS) failed in mid-flight.
The latest failure late on Thursday amid a long string of Russian rocket crashes was another black eye for the Roscosmos space agency.
The rocket, carrying an American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut, began to plummet to earth about two minutes into the six-hour mission because of what launch controllers initially called a ‘‘vehicle malfunction’’.
The engines were seen to cut out, after which the Soyuz MS-10 spaceship holding Russian commander Alexey Ovchinin and Nasa astronaut Nick Hague jettisoned from the drifting launch vehicle.
An internal camera showed the capsule jerking the pair around violently as the flight malfunctioned.
The video link broke off and the pair plunged towards the ground in ‘‘ballistic descent mode’’, experiencing gravitational forces six times normal.
The capsule’s parachute deployed successfully, however, landing them on the grassy steppe about 402 kilometres from the Baikonur Cosmodrome rented by Russia. State media showed rescuers helping the two crew members into a helicopter, and Nasa said the men were in good condition.
‘‘Vehicle malfunction. That was a quick flight,’’ Ovchinin
‘‘Vehicle malfunction. That was a quick flight.’’ Russian mission commander Alexey Ovchinin
declared drily over the radio at the beginning of the emergency descent.
The crash comes after Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin accused Elon Musk of conspiring with the Pentagon to force other players out of the space industry and suggested that international astronauts had sabotaged the ISS by drilling the hole found in its hull.
Adding to the embarrassment were a string of tweets by Roscosmos detailing the successful completion of three launch stages that never happened. The agency later deleted the tweets.
A spokesman for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said: ‘‘Thank God the crew is alive.’’ Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister, said. ‘‘According to preliminary information, the cause [of the crash] came during the separation of the first stage from the second stage. A special commission will get to the bottom of this.’’ Nasa also promised a thorough investigation.
Further Roscosmos launches have been suspended, Borisov said. Another two-man RussianAmerican crew had been scheduled to set out for the space station on December 20.
An American, a Russian and a German astronaut who were due to return from the ISS on the Soyuz MS-10 spaceship will have to be rescheduled. The crashed rocket had been carrying supplies, but the ISS has enough reserves for another six months.
A lengthening list of accidents has raised doubts about the state of Russia’s space programme, but the ISS – which has been circling the earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour since its launch into orbit in 1998 – is one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between Moscow and Washington amid rising political tensions. – Telegraph Group
The rescue team gather next to the Soyuz MS-10 space capsule after it made an emergency landing in Kazakhstan.
Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, left, and Nasa astronaut Nick Hague, second from right, are evacuated by the rescue team after an emergency landing near Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan