2-man crew safe as Rus­sian space rocket fails in mid-air

Shanghai Daily - - TOP NEWS - (Reuters/AFP)

THE two-man US-Rus­sian crew of a Soyuz space­craft en route to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion was forced to make a dra­matic emer­gency land­ing in Kaza­khstan yes­ter­day when their rocket failed in mid-air.

US as­tro­naut Nick Hague and Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Alexei Ov­chinin 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.

It was the first se­ri­ous launch prob­lem ex­pe­ri­enced by a manned Soyuz space mis­sion since 1983 when a fire broke out at the base of the booster rocket while the crew was pre­par­ing for lift-off. The crew nar­rowly es­caped be­fore a large ex­plo­sion.

Yes­ter­day’s prob­lem oc­curred when the first and sec­ond stages of a booster rocket, launched from the Soviet-era cos­mod­rome of Baikonur in the cen­tral Asian coun­try, were sep­a­rat­ing, trig­ger­ing emer­gency sys­tems soon af­ter launch.

The Soyuz cap­sule car­ry­ing the two men then sep­a­rated from the mal­func­tion­ing rocket and made what NASA called a steep bal­lis­tic de­scent to Earth with para­chutes help­ing slow its speed. A cloud of sand bil­lowed up as the cap­sule came down on the desert steppe.

Res­cue crews then raced to the scene to re­trieve them with re­ports of para­troop­ers parachut­ing to their land­ing spot.

The fail­ure is a set­back for the Rus­sian space pro­gram and the lat­est in a string of mishaps.

Moscow im­me­di­ately sus­pended all manned space launches, the RIA news agency re­ported. Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they have opened a crim­i­nal probe into the failed launch.

“An investigative group has been formed and of­fi­cials are cur­rently ex­am­in­ing the launch site, doc­u­ments are be­ing seized,” the Investigative Com­mit­tee said in a state­ment.

The probe would seek to de­ter­mine whether safety reg­u­la­tions had been vi­o­lated dur­ing con­struc­tion, lead­ing to mas­sive dam­age.

Un­named Rus­sian space in­dus­try sources cited by news agen­cies said it would be hard to es­tab­lish what had caused the in­ci­dent be­cause the booster rocket seg­ments in­volved had been badly dam­aged.

Jim Bri­den­s­tine, NASA’s ad­min­is­tra­tor, said that the fail­ure had been caused by an anom­aly with the rocket’s booster.

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