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

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

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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