The two-man crew of a Soyuz rocket has made a successful emergency landing following the failure of a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station (ISS).
Russian state space agency Roscosmos and NASA on Thursday said the three-stage Soyuz booster rocket, which propelled their landing capsule, suffered an emergency shutdown of its second stage.
The capsule jettisoned from the booster and went into a ballistic descent, landing at a sharper than normal angle and subjecting the crew to heavy gravitational force.
NASA said that rescue teams have reached Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin and they have been taken out of the capsule and were in good condition.
The capsule landed about 20km (12 miles) east of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
“Thank God, the crew is alive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters when it became clear that the crew had landed safely.
The former military pilots were meant to join Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, NASA’s Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Roscosmos’s Sergey Prokopyev on the ISS after a six-hour flight.
Russia’s ability in doubt
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the International Space Station following the retirement of the US space shuttle fleet.
Russia, which relies on boosters designed during the Soviet Union, has a bad reputation for reliability with spacecraft.
A string of failed launches in recent years has called into doubt Russia’s ability to maintain the same high standards of their manufacturing.
Glitches found in Russia’s Proton and Soyuz rockets in 2016 were traced to manufacturing flaws at the plant in Voronezh. Roscosmos sent more than 70 rocket engines back to production lines to replace faulty components.
In August, the International Space Station crew spotted a hole in a Russian Soyuz capsule docked to the orbiting outpost that caused a brief loss of air pressure before being patched.
Russia stands to lose its monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of the SpaceX’s Dragon v2, expected to start crewed launches in June 2019, and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsules, expected to start crewed launches in August 2019.