It is not clear how long the Soyuz vehicle will be grounded. On Thursday in Kazakhstan, at 4:40am EDT, a Soyuz rocket took off carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin toward the International Space Station. The ascent proceeded normally until the separation of one of the rocket's booster stages, by which point the crew had already experienced microgravity. Because the Soyuz spacecraft did not reach orbit at the point of this booster failure, the crew was forced to make a rapid ballistic descent likely under high g-forces. After about 20 minutes of uncertainty, Russian officials confirmed the crew were ok and had landed about 20km east of Dzhezkazgan, a city in central Kazakhstan. As rescue crews arrived, Hague and Ovchinin were reported in "good condition" and found out of the capsule. Little additional information has been provided. Roscosmos, the Russian firm that operates the nation's space agency and is responsible for Soyuz launches, will not hold any news conferences today. The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said a state commission has already been established to study the accident. This failure raises serious questions about the future of the International Space Station, as, since the space shuttle's retirement in 2011, the Soyuz spacecraft and rocket were the only means by which crews have been able to reach it. With Thursday's failed launch, just three people remain on the station: American astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, German ISS Commander Alexander Gerst, and Russian Sergey Prokopyev. It is not clear how long the Soyuz vehicle will be grounded or how long the current crew can remain in orbit. NASA's own transportation system, the commercial crew vehicles under development by SpaceX and Boeing, have yet to take uncrewed test flights to the station, and those are unlikely to occur before early 2019. The first crewed flights would not take place until several months after that, unless the space agency is willing to take additional risks with those missions. China has a human space flight capability, but it has no crew missions planned before 2020, and NASA is barred by Congress from working with the Chinese Space Agency. Several recent problems with the Soyuz launch system will complicate the investigation. In December 2016, a Soyuz-U rocket carrying an uncrewed Progress spacecraft laden with 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and other supplies lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Following a normal launch, first-, and second-stage firings, things started to go wrong for Progress MS-04 at about six minutes into the flight, also with a booster issue. The spacecraft was lost. The rocket that launched Thursday was a slightly more modern Soyuz-FG booster. Moreover, there was a problem with the last Soyuz spacecraft, which launched in June, when a small leak was found in the vehicle's orbital module in space in August. Russian officials have been coy about what caused the problem, even intimating that a NASA astronaut may have drilled the hole while in space. An investigation is ongoing, but what most likely happened is that a worker accidentally damaged the spacecraft at some point during the manufacturing or integration process. This could have happened during the manufacturing phase at RSC Energia's facilities in Samara, Russia or at the processing and integration facilities in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, from where the spacecraft was launched. In the wake of this most recent mishap, NASA released a statement just last week saying it had full confidence in the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft that was launching Thursday morning. NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, was actually in Kazakhstan for the launch. This story will be updated with additional information when it is available.
A NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut had to make an emergency landing on Earth this morning after the Russian Soyuz rocket carrying them into orbit experienced a failure during launch. The two crew members — astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin — safely landed on the ground in Kazakhstan less than an hour after liftoff and are in good condition, according to NASA. The crew took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40AM ET. About six minutes after launch, Russias state space corporation Roscosmos said that there was a problem with the booster during the flight. The failure prompted the crew to make a ballistic reentry when the Soyuz capsule enters Earths atmosphere at a steeper angle than normal. Rescue teams reached the landing site and transported the crew out of the Soyuz capsule. Hague and Ovchinin were then flown by helicopter to Jezkazgan. Search and rescue teams report they are in contact with the Soyuz crew, who report they are in good condition. The teams are en route to the landing site. Live updates: Ballistic reentries can be intense for astronauts because they experience higher G forces. With a normal Soyuz landing, crews riding in the vehicle usually pull around 4 Gs. That can double for ballistic reentries. In 2008, a Soyuz experienced a malfunction during landing, prompting a ballistic reentry that reached up to 8 Gs. I saw 8.2 Gs on the meter and it was pretty, pretty dramatic, former NASA astronaut Pegg Whitson, who was on the flight, said in a statement, according to Wired. Gravitys not really my friend right now and 8 Gs was especially not my friend. But it didnt last too long. However, todays crew pulled just 6.7 Gs, according to a recording on NASA TV. Roscosmos has announced that it is forming a state commission to investigate the failure. The Russian state corporation says it is already studying the data from the launch. NASA says that it is also analyzing what happened. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully, the space agency said in a statement. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Roscosmos said it would not hold a press conference today. This is the second problem with a Soyuz vehicle in the last few months. In August, the crew members on board the ISS noticed that air was leaking from the station and traced the problem to a hole in one of the docked Soyuz capsules. The leak was patched up just fine, but Roscosmos has been trying to figure out how and when the hole was made. Russia ruled out the idea that it was made by a micrometeoroid impact and has suggested it looks like it was made by a drill. The incident has caused quite a bit of drama, with Russian media suggesting in-space sabotage and NASA coming out against those claims. But todays failure could have even more significant repercussions for NASAs human spaceflight program moving forward. Its unlikely that Russia will launch a crewed Soyuz mission until it has figured out what exactly went wrong during this flight. However, the Soyuz is NASAs only means of getting astronauts to the International Space Station at the moment. Two private US companies — SpaceX and Boeing — are developing vehicles to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Program. However, the first crewed flights of that program are not slated to occur until summer of next year at the earliest. Meanwhile, there are still three people on board the ISS at the moment: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, German astronaut Alexander Gerst, and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev. The trio launched to the station on June 6th on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. However, their Soyuz capsule can only last in orbit around 200 days, meaning the crew will need to come down by the end of the year. If the Soyuz rocket is not back in operation by then, its possible the ISS may be abandoned for some unknown amount of time. We will continue to update this post when we receive more information. Update October 11th, 7AM ET : This post was updated to include more context about recent events on the space station.