BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN—A duo of astronauts aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule bound for the the International Space Station landed back on Earth mere minutes after launch as their rocket suffered an unspecified failure.
“We had an interruption on today’s launch,” a NASA commentator reported. “We are told the rescue forces are in communication with Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin and we are hearing they are in good condition.”
NASA astronaut Hague and Roscosmos’ cosmnonaut Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 4:40 a.m. EDT Thursday from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The first-stage of the Soyuz MS-10 launch appeared flawless until NASA reported the problem just as the crew reached orbit.
Roscosmos and NASA said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown of its second stage. The capsule jettisoned from the booster and went into a ballistic descent, landing at a sharper than normal angle.
The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space program. Russia has launched numerous variations of Soyuz rockets since 1967. The last major failure occured in 1983 when the rocket exploded on the launch pad during the vehicle’s countdown.
“Thank God, the crew is alive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when it became clear that the crew had landed safely.
NASA reported Russia has formed a state commission to investigate the launch incident.
Today’s flight is the first space mission for Hague, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013. Ovchinin spent six months on the station in 2016. They were scheduled to dock with the space station later Thursday and spend six-months there.
Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, a back-up crew member, is part of the crew set for the next scheduled-Russian Soyuz launch in December. It is not clear at this time if that flight will be delayed as a result of the Soyuz MS-10 failure Thursday.
NASA has purchased seats on the Soyuz for astronauts to get to the space station for years. Three Canadians have flown it — astronauts Bob Thirsk and Chris Hadfield, and space tourist Guy Laliberté.