Rocket failure forces emergency, but safe, landing for U.S., Russian astronauts
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan — 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, 43, and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin, 47, had a brief period of weightlessness when the capsule separated from the malfunctioning Soyuz rocket at an altitude of about 31 miles, then endured gravitational forces of 6-7 times more than is felt on Earth as they came down at a sharperthan-normal angle.
About a half-hour later, the capsule parachuted onto a barren area in Kazakhstan.
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.
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.
For the crew in the capsule, events would have happened very quickly, NASA’s deputy chief astronaut Reid Wiseman told reporters. An emergency light would have come on and, an instant later, the abort motors would fire to pull the capsule away from the rocket.
Wiseman said all that went through his mind was “I hope they get down safe.”
The Soyuz MS-10 space capsule lies in a field after its emergency landing Thursday in Kazakhstan.