A NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut made an emergency landing after their rocket failed mid-air Thursday morning.
The Soyuz MS-10 mission launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:40 a.m. PT, but “an anomaly” with the booster forced NASA’s Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Aleksey Ovchinin to return to earth in an escape capsule, NASA said in a statement. It landed east of the city of Zhezkazgan.
The pair were supposed to take the four-orbit, six-hour journey to the International Space Station. They were due to join European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst, NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos’ Sergey Prokopyev for six months to conduct experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.
“Teams have confirmed the spacecraft separated from the booster and are in contact with the crew as the capsule returns in a ballistic decent mode,” NASA reported.
A ballistic descent is a sharper angle of landing than usual, but the space agency reported that Hague and Ovchinin made it back to Earth in good condition. The pair is said to be out of the capsule and being brought to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on helicopters as the search-and-recovery team prepares to bring them back to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, just outside Moscow.
“Thank God the cosmonauts are alive,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists as the Kremlin confirmed Hague and Ovchinin’s survival.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he’s “grateful that everyone is safe.”
Roscosmos is forming a state commission to investigate the cause of Thursday’s incident.
The malfunction may have occurred during “staging” — when the rocket was going through the process of discarding empty fuel segments — and the crew was tipped off to the problem because they felt weightless as they should’ve felt pushed back in their seats, according to a BBC analyst.
While the capsule was prepared for this scenario, the crew would’ve endured very high gravitational forces and had an uncomfortable journey back to Earth during the ballistic descent, the analyst wrote.
First published at 2:36 a.m. PT.
Updated at 4:24 a.m. PT: Adds details from NASA statement.