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 launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
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.
Search-and-rescue forces “reached the landing site and the crew is actually out of the capsule,” a NASA spokeswoman in Houston said on the space agency’s live video broadcast as the emergency operation unfolded. “From here, the teams will be working to get them ready to return to Moscow.”
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, put it more bluntly in his daily conference call with journalists: “Thank God everyone is alive.”
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.
Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin said he was forming a state commission to investigate what caused the failure.
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 caused 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,” NASA Administrator Jim 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.”