Miracle escape for Space Station astronauts as rocket fails mid-launch: American and Russian hurtle back to Earth in harrowing 7G ‘ballistic re-entry’ and survive

Thursday, October 11, 2018
By Paul Martin

The secondary booster rockets on the Russian-made Soyuz spacecraft failed just after it launched Thursday
American Nick Hague and Russian Aleksey Ovchinin were forced to carry out a ‘ballistic re-entry’ to get back
The two-strong crew landed safely at a site in Kazakhstan hundreds of miles away from the initial launch site
Video footage from the launch shows the pair being shaken around as the engine malfunctioned in mid-flight
After the incident Russia announced Soyuz flights to the International Space Station would be suspended

11 October 2018

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 abort their mission on the cusp of space, at an altitude of approximately 50km (164,000ft).

They landed safely in Kazakhstan after a ‘ballistic re-entry’, during which they experienced forces of up to 7G.

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.

The secondary booster rocket failed shortly after the rocket jettisoned its first four booster rockets in stage-one separation at 164,000ft above the Earth but before the rocket entered orbit.

That meant automatic escape procedures kicked in and pointed the Soyuz capsule, that was designed in the 1960s and has seen 21 failures out of 745 launches, back to Earth.

The accident bears similarities to the 1986 Challenger disaster when one of its boosters failed at lift-off causing an explosion that killed seven.

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 Russians have suspended Soyuz flights to the space station while they investigate the cause of the booster failure.

The Soyuz is the only way to get people to the space station at the moment but officials insist the astronauts currently on the space station have enough supplies.

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.

A spokesperson for NASA said that rescue teams have now reached Hague and Ovchinin and they’ve been taken out of the capsule and were in ‘good condition’.

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.

Shortly after the incident rescue crews and paratroopers were rushed 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.’

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