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.
The crew are in good condition after a "ballistic descent." Astronauts Nick Hague of NASA and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are reportedly safe after making an emergency landing following the failure of their Soyuz spacecraft booster. After what looked like a routine launch, the crew were on their way to the international space station (ISS) when the booster, one of four around a central rocket, malfunctioned. NASA reported that the crew was forced to make a "ballistic descent," at a rapid speed with higher-than-normal g-forces. Shortly after the news of the descent, the capsule was sited under parachute in Kazhakstan, according to Gerry Doyle from Reuters. It touched down soon after, and the crew has made contact with ground rescue teams. Rescues crews are en route and should arrive to the Kazakhstan landing site at about 6:30 AM ET. "I just rode a malfunctioning booster for a few minutes and had to abort," said one of the astronauts. NASA has confirmed that Hague and Ovchinin are in contact with rescue crews, and that they're in good condition, though no doubt a little shook up. Roskosmos general director Dmitry Rogozin put it more succinctly: "The crew has landed. Everyone is alive," he said. NASA confirmed the incident was caused by "an anomaly with the booster," which caused the ascent to be aborted. The agency also confirmed that Hague and Ovchinin are in "good condition" and were transported to a training center outside of Moscow. A full investigation is the works, so more information should be available in the weeks to come. Update 10/11/2018 5:25 AM ET: The article was updated to include details of the landing and condition of the crew. 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: "I just rode a malfunctioning booster for a few minutes and had to abort" probably stretches the definition of "fine," but it's great news they are healthy and safe: Update 10/11/2018 10:29 AM ET: This article was updated to include NASA's statement. The full statement appears below. "The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 4:40 a.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 11 (2:40 p.m. in Baikonur) carrying American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft. "Search and rescue teams were deployed to the landing site. Hague and Ovchinin are out of the capsule and are reported to be in good condition. They will be transported to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia outside of Moscow. "NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully. 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."