Astronauts rescued as rocket fails
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 yesterday when a rocket failed in mid-air.
US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely 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.
The problem occurred when a booster rocket on the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle 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 Hague and Ovchinin and we are hearing that they are in good condition,” Nasa TV said.
Russia immediately suspended all manned space launches, the RIA news agency reported.
The failure is a setback for the Russian space programme and the latest in a string of mishaps.
For now, the US 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 spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters the most important thing was that the 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.
INTERNATIONAL Space Station crew member and astronaut Nick Hague, of the US, gestures to his children from behind a glass wall as he leaves to board the spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, yesterday.