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Booster failure on Soyuz rocket forces U.S., Russian space crew to make forced landing

Booster failure on Soyuz rocket forces U.S., Russian space crew to make forced landing
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(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 1975.

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 systems worked.”

The Soyuz capsule is returning to Earth via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal. Search and rescue teams are heading towards the expected touchdown location of the spacecraft and crew. Live updates: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/PH5t96RAfB

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.

Russia’s Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 57/58, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague, blasts off to the ISS from the launch pad at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Baikonur on October 11, 2018. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

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.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague, a member of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 57/58, is helped by specialists as his space suit is tested at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 11, 2018. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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