BAIKONUR COSMODROME (Kazakhstan) • The two-man US-Russian crew of a Soyuz spacecraft that was taking them to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) had to make a dramatic emergency landing in Kazakhstan yesterday when a rocket failed in mid-air.
US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely without harm on the Kazakh steppe, US space agency Nasa and Russia's Roscosmos said.
The Soyuz capsule carrying them separated from the malfunctioning rocket and made a steep ballistic descent with parachutes helping to slow its speed. Neither man needed medical treatment.
Nasa said the problem occurred when a booster rocket on the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle, launched from the Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur, failed.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, quoted by Interfax, said the problem occurred when the first and second stages of the booster rocket were in the process of separating. Footage from inside the Soyuz showed the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.
Russia immediately suspended all manned space launches, the RIA news agency reported, and Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he had ordered a state commission to be set up to investigate what had gone wrong.
In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule already docked at the ISS, which caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched. Mr Rogozin has said it could have been "sabotage".