Two Russian and American astronauts had a lucky escape Thursday after the Russian Soyuz rocket that was meant to take them to the International Space Station suffered a malfunction after lift-off, sending their crew capsule hurtling back to earth.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Avchinin were inside the Soyuz MS-10 capsule when the rocket carrying it had what NASA described as a booster separation problem.
The American space agency said on Twitter that the crew were in good condition, after the capsule landed safely in Kazakhstan. It had taken off, as usual, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the country’s south.
“There was an issue with the booster from today’s launch. The Soyuz capsule returned to Earth via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal,” NASA said on its website.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, tweeted shortly after the incident that a commission of inquiry had already begun work on figuring out the cause, by studying telemetry data from the craft.
“The crew has landed. Everybody is alive,” Rogozin wrote.
All trips to the ISS and back are undertaken using Russian spacecraft, as has been the case since the Americans retired their shuttles in 2011. NASA has Soyuz seats booked until November 2019, after which it hopes to use private U.S. companies such as SpaceX and Boeing to ferry its astronauts up and down.
Although the cause of Thursday’s malfunction is yet to be determined, it comes at an awkward moment for the Russians.
At the end of August, a Soyuz MS-09 module docked at the ISS was found to have a tiny hole in its fabric, causing a small amount of oxygen to leak out from the space station. The hole turned out to have been drilled, which may point to a covered-up manufacturing error at the Russian company that built the module. Similar mistakes have reportedly been made in the past.