(Bloomberg) — A booster failure during a Soyuz rocket launch
forced the two crew members to abort their mission to the
International Space Station and return to Earth in the first
such emergency landing for the Russian-built spacecraft since
American Nick Hague and Russian Alexey Ovchinin landed safely
after an “anomaly with the booster” prompted the ascent to be
aborted, NASA head Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. The
mission would have been Hague’s first space flight. Search and
rescue teams reported the men are in good condition after
making a ballistic descent, which has “a sharper angle of
landing compared to normal,” NASA said on Twitter.
“Thank god, the cosmonauts are alive,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry
Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “The crew’s safety
Russia may indefinitely postpone its next manned Soyuz launch
planned for December, state-owned RIA Novosti reported, citing
an unidentified person. The space station has enough food and
supplies for the current crew to last six months, the Interfax
news service reported, citing an unidentified person.
A government commission has been formed to investigate the
cause of the accident, according to a tweet from Dmitry
Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The incident comes as the U.S. has been making progress in its
quest to end Russia’s monopoly on manned flights to the ISS by
encouraging private companies to conduct launches. Bridenstine
attended the launch at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome with
Rogozin as part of an effort to mend relations between the two
space superpowers strained by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Explorations Technologies Corp.
and Boeing Co. have contracts to deliver astronauts to the ISS
starting next year, which may threaten a key source of funding
for Russia’s space program. Roscosmos has earned billions of
dollars in fees ferrying astronauts into orbit since NASA
retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011. Rogozin accused
Musk on state television last week of selling seats on SpaceX
at below cost to undermine Russia’s market share.
Thursday’s aborted mission is another setback for Russia’s
space program. Most recently, a mysterious hole was detected on
the Russian section of the ISS in August, and a Soyuz launch
failure destroyed 18 satellites in November 2017.
Since its debut in the Soviet Union in 1966, the Soyuz has been
the most-used launch vehicle in history. In 1975, a manned
Soyuz failed to separate between stages during an ascent and
triggered the abort system. Its crew survived.