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Astronauts Make Emergency Landing in Failed Russian Space Launch

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A Russian spacecraft traveling to the International Space Station Thursday had to make an emergency landing when a rocket engine failed to fire.

It was the latest in a recent series of failures for the Russian space program, which is also used by the U.S. to carry its astronauts to the station.

United States astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely about 20 kilometers from Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. The city is about 450 kilometers from the Russia's Baikonur space center, which Russia operates through an agreement with the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Both the U.S. space agency NASA and Russia's Roscosmos reported that the two were quickly recovered from the landing area by rescue crews.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "Thank God the crew is alive" after they had landed safely.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who watched the launch at Baikonur tweeted that Hague and Ovchinin are in good condition. He added that a "thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted."

What happened?

About two minutes after launching, the three-stage Soyuz booster rocket suffered an unspecified failure of its second stage.

American astronaut Nick Hague (right) and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin speak before taking off aboard a Soyuz MS-10 capsule to the International Space Station, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on October 11, 2018. (AP Photo / Dmitri Lovetsky)
American astronaut Nick Hague (right) and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin speak before taking off aboard a Soyuz MS-10 capsule to the International Space Station, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on October 11, 2018. (AP Photo / Dmitri Lovetsky)

Russia's TASS news agency said the capsule carrying the two men separated from the troubled rocket safely. This caused the capsule to drop very sharply into the Earth's atmosphere. Parachutes helped slow the returning capsule. Search and rescue teams were sent to recover the crew.

Russia's RIA news agency reported that Russia has immediately suspended all manned space launches after the failure.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin said he had ordered a state commission to carry out an investigation into what went wrong. He said Russia will share all relevant information with the U.S.

The Russian space program has suffered several failures in recent years.

In August, the crew found a hole in a Russian Soyuz capsule docked to the orbiting space station. The hole caused a brief loss of air pressure before being fixed. The Russian space agency also sent 70 rocket engines back to production lines in 2016 to replace broken parts.

However, Thursday's incident was the first manned launch failure since 1983 when a Soyuz rocket exploded in the launch area. The cosmonauts safely escaped in that accident as well.

International Space Station not threatened

The two astronauts were to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) six hours after the launch to join an American, a Russian and a German currently aboard the station.

The TASS news agency said that the ISS crew has enough supplies and that the failed launch will not affect operations.

Relations between the U.S. and Russia have been very tense in recent years. Russian activities in Ukraine, charges of interfering in the U.S. presidential election of 2016 and the conflict in Syria are some of the main issues. However, the two sides have continued their cooperation in space.

The U.S. and other nations have depended on Russia to carry astronauts to the ISS since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

In coming years, American aerospace companies SpaceX, with its Dragon 2, and Boeing, with its Starliner, are expected to return to space.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Mario Ritter adapted this story for VOA Learning English from AP and Reuters stories. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.​

Words in This Story

capsule –n. a small part of a spacecraft that is separate from the rest of the ship where people live and work

stages –n. a section of a rocket that has fuel and an engine

booster –n. part of a rocket that provides force for the launch and the first part of flight

relevant –adj. relating to a subject in an appropriate way

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