US, Russian crew in Russian space center after failed launch

Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Nick Hague of NASA

Nasa astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2.40pm Thursday (9.40pm, NZ time) from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket.

"The Soyuz capsule is returning to Earth via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal", NASA tweeted.

Both the US space agency NASA and Russia's Roscosmos reported that the two were quickly recovered from the landing area by rescue crews. An emergency landing protocol was initiated and their capsule landed in a field in Kazakhstan. Space is one of the few areas where the United States and Russia are still actively collaborating, but recent events are putting into question the Russian space industry's capacity to meet today's rigorous standards.

For the crew in the capsule, events would have happened very quickly, NASA's deputy chief astronaut Reid Wiseman told reporters at Johnson Space Centre in Houston. He added that the president is receiving regular updates about the situation.

NASA could be forced to fly the International Space Station remotely if the remaining crew members have to leave before the investigation into what caused a failure onboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft is completed.

What was expected to be a six-hour flight to the International Space Station was abruptly curtailed when the rocket reached an altitude of approximately 164,000 feet, at the cusp of space. Dzhezkazgan is about 450 kilometres northeast of Baikonur.

Sergei Krikalev, a senior Roscosmos official, said on Friday that Russian Federation may also delay a planned unmanned cargo shipment by a Progress spacecraft to the ISS.

It was to be the first space mission for Hague, who joined NASA's astronaut corps in 2013.

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However, in the meantime, this failure has a number of consequences for the agencies and the crew aboard the space station. "And at this point I'm confident that we'll launch in December".

Soyuz flights are suspended while the Russian space agency Roscosmos investigates the cause of the failure.

Earlier this week, Bridenstine emphasized that collaboration with Russia's Roscosmos remains important. NASA now depends on Russian Soyuz launch systems to ferry crew members to the station.

The current space station crew of an American, a Russian and a German was scheduled to return to Earth in December after a six-month mission.

Gerst tweeted his relief that the two astronauts were safe, saying the day's events "showed again what an wonderful vehicle the Soyuz is, to be able to save the crew from such a failure".

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.

Russian news reports indicated that one of the rocket's four first-stage engines might have failed to jettison in sync with others, resulting in the second stage's shutdown. Neither NASA or Roscosmos will be jumping to any conclusions, but Russian Federation has promised a full investigation and is forming a team to look into how and why the rocket failed as it did.

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