Two astronauts are alive after dramatically aborting their voyage to the International Space Station when their Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned while it carried them into orbit at 4,970mph.
American Nick Hague and Russian Aleksey Ovchinin were forced to return to Earth and landed in Kazakhstan when the booster stopped working during stage-one separation on their Soyuz rocket at approximately 50km (164,000ft) above the Earth.
Video footage from the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome shows a large plume of smoke coming from the rocket at the moment it failed and footage from inside the capsule shows the two astronauts being violently shaken about.
After the malfunction they were forced to return to Earth in a process known as a ‘ballistic re-entry’, during which they experienced forces of up to 7G.
Search and rescue teams were scrambled to the touchdown location as NASA revealed the descent meant the Russian-built Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft had to take ‘a sharper angle of landing compared to normal’.
It comes weeks after a hole was discovered in the International Space Station amid talk from the Russian space authorities of deliberate sabotage.
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-10 space ship during the troubled ascent on Thursday morning from a launch station in Kazakhstan
The two-man crew of NASA rookie Nick Hague and second-time flyer Aleksey Ovchinin in the cockpit of the spacecraft during take-off
NASA rookie Nick Hague and second-time flyer Aleksey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency were setting off for a six-month mission at the International Space Station Thursday, on a relatively rare two-man launch.
Both astronauts were said to be ‘alive’ on Thursday morning, but their exact condition is not known – according to local Russian report.
The craft’s landing engines and parachute system were said to have done their job as normal despite the enormous G-force acting on both the shuttle and crew during the landing.
Rescue crews are now heading towards the emergency landing site in the barren Kazakh steppe to provide support for the crew.
NASA had issued a worrying tweet on Thursday morning saying: ‘There’s been an issue with the booster from today’s launch. Teams have been in contact with the crew.’
‘The capsule is returning via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal. Search and rescue teams are heading towards the expected touchdown location of the spacecraft and crew.’
Cosmonaut Alexander Volkov commented: ‘The guys are lucky that they remained alive. They had reached a good height so it was possible to descend in their capsule.’
A massive plume of smoke could be seen firing out from behind the boosters in the dramatic moment the shuttle’s engine failed during the launch phase
Smoke pouring out of the engines of the Soyuz rocket during the first stage of its launch on Thursday afternoon after the engine malfunctioned
A large cloud of dark-coloured smoke could be seen to have gathered in the wake of the spacecraft as it soared through the upper atmosphere
Roscosmos, the Russian national space agency, and NASA said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown during its second stage.
The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space program, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents.
‘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.
The Soyuz rocket was due to dock at the orbiting outpost of the International Space Station six hours later, but the booster suffered a failure minutes after the launch.
NASA and Russian Roscosmos space agency said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
The astronauts were forced to carry out a dramastic ‘ballistic descent’ in which they experienced G-forces of up to 7G at times
Photographers take pictures as Russia’s Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft jets into the sky during its launch in Kazakhstan on Thursday
NASA released a statement during the launch saying that the crew would be forced to attempt a ‘ballistic re-entry’ to get back to Earth safely
NASA astronaut Nick Hague (right) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin walk toward the shuttle after their space suits were tested prior to the launch on Thursday
American astronaut Nick Hague, member of the main crew to the International Space Station (ISS), waves to his sons from a bus prior to the launch
The pair had been due to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch but an issue just three minutes in prevented them from continuing
The two astronauts had been intended to carry out a six-month mission to the International Space Station which was discovered to be damaged last month
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A ROCKET BOOSTER FAILS?
Rockets use boosters to provide the thrust they need to launch from Earth and breech the atmosphere.
They set the trajectory for the flight, and if they aren’t running at full capacity could send the rocket in completely the wrong direction.
The Soyuz MS-10 rocket had four boosters strapped to its central core.
A booster can fail for any number of reasons, including incorrect fuelling, mechanical faults, computer glitches and more.
In the event of a booster failure, mission control will normally cancel the flight to avoid endangering the astronauts on board.
The rocket is put into an emergency landing procedure in which the main module – holding all cargo and any astronauts on board – separates from the rocket early.
The astronauts of the Soyuz MS-10 are said to have switched into ‘ballistic descent mode’ once they were notified of the second stage booster fault.
This means the core module separated from the faulty boosters and turned back to Earth.
The rocket came in at a much sharper angle than normal, allowing the craft to head as quickly as possible to the ground.
It is believed the rocket was travelling at more than 8,000 miles per hour (12,800kph), putting the astronauts under G-force pressure of 7Gs.