The crew of the Soyuz has landed in an emergency in Kazakhstan after a failure in the Soyuz-FG rocket during its launch.
The crew was composed of Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and American astronaut Nick Hague, both were to join the crew of the International Space Station, which now only operates with three people on board.
After the rocket experienced a mid-air failure, and just as the spaceship was about to enter Earth’s low orbit, the capsule containing the two astronauts was safely ejected.
According to reports, the capsule separated from the damaged rocket when it was 123 seconds in the air.
What followed was an emergency landing described as “terrifying” by the Russian media, but one that ultimately saved their lives.
Video footage from inside the spacecraft showed that the crew was experiencing a heavy turbulence at the time of the mechanical failure.
The capsule in which the two crewmembers were found was automatically ejected by the security system, causing it to descend at very high speeds that subjected the astronauts to an acceleration of up to 7 g’s over the sky of Kazakhstan.
.@NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today's aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/M76yisHaKF
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 11, 2018
Nasa only tweeted: “The crew is returning to Earth in ballistic descent mode.”
This means that the capsule with the astronauts was falling without any propulsion and that its course was determined only by the impulse of the ship, which was later slowed down by a parachute, allowing the capsule to safely land.
The angle of descent was much more acute than what the manuals recommend, and there is a high risk of overheating the ship.
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) October 11, 2018
But despite this, the capsule survived entry and landed safely with the two astronauts onboard.
And just as in the movies, initial frustration gave way to euphoria when it was confirmed that the crew had survived.
The parachutes did not fail: they opened at an altitude between 7,000 and 8,000 meters.
Four Mi-8 helicopters were scrambled to search for the capsule with the two astronauts on board.
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) October 11, 2018
Eventually, Aleksei Ovchinin and Nick Hague were taken to the hospital for examinations after they were removed from the capsule which landed in the middle of the Kazakh Steppe.
Following the accident, airspace over the Kazakh Steppe was closed down.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that manned space flights would be suspended until experts investigate what caused the rocket to malfunction.
“According to preliminary information, the cause [of the crash] came during the separation of the first stage from the second stage,” Yury Borisov, deputy prime minister for the military-industrial complex, told reporters.
Совершивший аварийную посадку экипаж #СоюзМС10 находится под динамическим наблюдением опытных врачей ЦМСЧ-1 ФМБА России на #Байконур. Самочувствие и состояние здоровья космонавта @roscosmos Алексея Овчинина и астронавта @NASA Ник Хейга @AstroHague хорошее https://t.co/ikZX8uAydZ pic.twitter.com/lIy0KedoiX
— ФМБА России (@FMBA_of_Russia) October 11, 2018
“A special commission will get to the bottom of this.”
As noted by National Geographic, “…The Soyuz accident will likely put a strain on the ISS’s current crew—and may even threaten to interrupt use of the orbiting laboratory, which has been continuously occupied since November 2, 2,000…”
The ISS’s current crew “could undock and come home any time, but of course, just like after the Columbia accident, we need to think about the long-term plan for the health of the crew on the space station, and the space station itself,” explained Chris Hadfield, a former ISS commander and Soyuz copilot, in a live stream on Thursday.
“If you abandon the space station,” Hadfield said, “then there’s no one there to fix things as they fail, and it’ll eventually have a serious problem.”
The search and rescue teams have reached the Soyuz spacecraft landing site and report that the two crew members are in good condition and are out of the capsule. Search and rescue teams are with the crew now. Latest updates: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/WzomVblhtI
— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2018
“But if it’s a complicated problem—and rocket failures are almost always complicated problems—it’s going to take longer for them to sort out what it was.”