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Russian rocket to ISS fails mid-air, astronauts land safe: NASA

Two astronauts aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that made an emergency landing after their rocket malfunctioned on lift-off to the International Space Station (ISS) were safe and in good condition, NASA said on Thursday.

The Soyuz MS-10 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the ISS at 4.40 a.m. on Thursday with Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague on board. It was Hague’s maiden space mission.

According to NASA, there was an “issue with the booster” and the “crew is returning to Earth in a ballistic descent mode”, which is a sharper angle of descent compared to normal.

The four strap-on boosters were jettisoned as planned shortly after lift-off and the flight was proceeding under the power of its second stage core booster when the mishap occurred.

“Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft,” NASA said in a statement.

The two astronauts reportedly felt “weightlessness” as the crew capsule detached.

They landed about 20 km east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, where rescue crews were scrambled to find them.

“Search and rescue teams were deployed to the landing site. Hague and Ovchinin are out of the capsule and are reported to be in good condition. They will be transported to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia outside of Moscow,” NASA said.

“NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet.

NASA worked closely with the Russian space agency Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew.

“A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted,” NASA stated.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos was also planning to carry out inspection of the rocket space centre where the Soyuz FG rocket was produced.

“A state commission was formed by my decision to determine the cause of the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket accident. It has already begun work. Telemetry is being studied,” Chief of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter.

“Rescue services have been working from the first second of the accident. The Soyuz-MS spacecraft emergency rescue system worked properly. The crew was rescued,” he added.

The malfunction could cause trouble for NASA as the agency is waiting for both Boeing and SpaceX to deliver homegrown spacecraft so it no longer has to rely on Russia to send supplies and crew to the ISS. NASA astronauts currently use Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and its contract is set to expire in November 2019.

It was first such mishap for Russian Soyuz capsule in 35 years.

In August 1983, Soyuz 7K-ST No.16L intended to visit the Salyut 7 space station had an on-pad abort when the capsule pulled away from an exploding booster.

There was another abort mission with the Soyuz spacecraft, in Mongolia in 1975.

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