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An American And Russian Astronaut Took Off For The ISS. Then, The Rocket Failed

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by Joshua Gill

The booster for a rocket carrying American and Russian astronauts failed shortly after launch Thursday, forcing the astronauts into an emergency descent to Earth.

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The two astronauts, Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin, landed safely in a parachuted capsule 12 to 15 miles outside of the town of Zhezqazghan in Kazakhstan, 240 northwest of Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome where they launched that morning. NASA reported trouble with the Soyuz rocket’s booster eight minutes after launch, 11 minutes after which they reported that the booster had failed and the astronauts were returning to Earth in a ballistic descent, meaning a descent without propulsion.

The rocket was intended to carry the astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA also clarified that a ballistic descent involves a sharper angle of descent than normal, potentially threatening the crew as descent angles are usually calculated exactly so that the capsule does not overheat or burn up during reentry. Thankfully, both astronauts survived the descent with no injuries.

Dmitri Rogozin, chief of Roscosmos, the Russian space program, reported a little over an hour after the launch that the astronauts had been located and safely rescued and that “a state commission has been established to investigate the causes” of the malfunction, according to The New York Times.

“Thank God the cosmonauts are alive. This is the main thing,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told journalists.

A Russian space official said the emergency occurred 119 seconds into the flight during the first stage side boosters’ separation from the second stage main booster, after which the second stage booster shut down completely, according to an Interfax.

Roscosmos jumped the gun, however, and preemptively reported a positive description of the rocket’s flight in anticipation of a successful launch, sparking criticism from readers who thought that the space program was trying to cover up the accident. The Russian space program later posted updates of the accident and of the astronauts’ retrieval.

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