Russian Federation opens criminal probe over failed rocket launch

The launch of the Soyuz rocket

The Soyuz rocket carrying the two astronauts at liftoff

United States astronaut Nick Hague, right, and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, crew members of the mission to the International Space Station wave as they board the rocket prior to the launch.

USA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely without harm and rescue crews who raced to locate them on the Kazakh steppe quickly linked up with them, NASA, the US space agency, and Russia's Roscosmos said.

Footage from inside the rocket show the two men being shaken at the moment the fault occured, their arms and legs flailing.

It was the first time that the Soyuz - the main workhorse of manned space flight today - had failed on a launch to the 20-year-old International Space Station. The spacecraft was able to separate with the booster and return to earth using the backup ballistic descent mode.

The journey was expected to take six hours.

Two astronauts from the US and Russia are making an emergency landing after a Russian booster rocket carrying them into orbit to the International Space Station has failed after launch.

- NASA says an astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut are in good condition after an emergency landing following a booster rocket failure minutes after the launch.

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Visiting Kazakhstan for the first time as NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine witnessed Thursday's launch and promised a "thorough investigation" into the mishap. Search and rescue teams were immediately scrambled to recover the crew and paratroopers were dropped from a plane to reach the site and help the rescue effort.

Both astronauts were said to be "alive" on Thursday morning, but their exact condition is not known - according to local Russian report.

The rocket's emergency abort system took over at that point, ejecting the Soyuz capsule, which carried the two-man crew on a harrowing ride back down to Earth. "That means the crew will not be going to the International Space Station today". That mission will now be postponed until early next year, space officials said.

ABC News reported that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that all manned launches will be suspended until the investigation is complete and the cause of the rocket's failure can be pin-pointed.

A couple minutes after liftoff, however, a frantic message - "Failure, failure, failure", blared across the live feed.

One of the pictures showed Hague smiling and another had him sitting next to Russia's space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin. He didn't say if he suspected any of the current crew of three Americans, two Russians and a German aboard the station. That 0.08-inch (2-millimeter) hole in the orbital module of the Soyuz vehicle created a small air leak on the space station that was detected by flight controllers on the ground and ultimately repaired by astronauts and cosmonauts on the space station.

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