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American, Russian alive after Soyuz rocket headed to space station fails on launch

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 10/11/2018 Anton Troianovski
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Video by CBS News

MOSCOW —A Russian rocket carrying an American and a Russian to the International Space Station failed on launch Thursday, forcing the astronaut and cosmonaut to careen back to Earth in a dramatic emergency landing.

U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin parachuted to the ground safely in their capsule after a booster on the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft failed, NASA and Russia’s space agency said. They were met by rescue teams in remote Kazakhstan more than 200 miles from their launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Manned space launches have been suspended pending an investigation.

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Russia has released photos of the men smiling while undergoing a medical checkup at Dzhezkazgan airport in Kazakhstan. They were sitting on a couch in front of a television with plates of nuts before them.

The men, who will shortly be flown back to Baikonur, were described as being in good condition despite having been exposed to higher than usual gravity forces during their descent.

It was the first time that the Soyuz — the main workhorse of manned space flight today — had failed on a launch to the 20-year-old International Space Station. The spacecraft has been the sole means of bringing humans to the space station since the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, but commercial providers aiming for manned spaceflight are increasingly nipping at Russia’s heels.

“Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Hague and Ovchinin are out of the capsule and are reported to be in good condition.”

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, put it more bluntly in his daily conference call with journalists: “Thank God everyone is alive.”

Slideshow by photo services

After the booster failed, Ovchinin and Hague were forced to make a ballistic descent, coming back to the ground at a sharper angle than normal and causing higher gravitational forces on their bodies. But soon after the landing, U.S. and Russian officials said that rescue forces were in contact with the astronaut and cosmonaut. 

After their rescue, Hague and Ovchinin were set to be airlifted to a space flight training center outside of Moscow. 

Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin said he was forming a state commission to investigate what caused the failure.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, who oversees space flight, promised to share all information from the investigation with the United States and said that manned space launches would be suspended until the end of the probe, according to Russian news agencies.

The rare failed launch of the Soyuz rocket is the latest and most grave problem to beset U.S.-Russian cooperation in space. Last month, an oxygen leak was found in the International Space Station that Rogozin said was made deliberately. Its cause still hasn’t been determined. Russian officials have also insisted on a bigger role in a U.S.-led plan to build a space station orbiting the moon.

Nevertheless, officials in both countries continue to refer to space flight as a rare example of U.S.-Russian cooperation continuing despite geopolitical tensions.

“I strongly believe we’re going to get the right answer to what caused the hole on the International Space Station and that together we’ll be able to continue our strong collaboration,” Bridenstine said on a visit to Moscow this week, according to the Associated Press. “What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to very dispassionately allow the investigation to go forward without speculation, without rumor, without innuendo, without conspiracy.”

anton.troianovski@washpost.com


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