Earlier today, an anomaly during the launch of a Russian Soyuz Rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan forced the crew to abort, and engage in an emergency landing, according to NASA.
The crew launched at 4:40 am Eastern time (2:40 pm local time in Russia) with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin onboard. NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, were planning for the pair to rendezvous with the three astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station, however a malfunction during the launch prevented that.
The Soyuz MS-10 capsule landed about 12 miles east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, approximately 270 miles away from the launch site.
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The crew is reportedly safe and in “good condition” after the launch abort. Roscosmos released a photograph of the crew who appeared to be relaxing while being medically assessed. And I think I see some snacks there, too.
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) October 11, 2018
NASA has also released an edited version of the launch video:
The video shows a typical launch of the rocket, however just after the 2:35 mark of the video, while showing the crew inside the capsule, you see the crew being shaken around by something that very clearly should not be happening.
Twitter user @stevespaleta looped the moment as a GIF:
This is the shimmy that the crew experienced during booster separation – broadcast by NASA, and looped here. So happy they are safe!!
More about the launch failure: https://t.co/Ws3Qu97BWK pic.twitter.com/JH2N3ROMqA
— Steve Spaleta (@stevespaleta) October 11, 2018
It doesn’t appear that Roscosmos will hold a press conference or release any additional information about the launch failure today, however it appears that the issue occurred in the second stage after a nominal first stage. Right after the astronauts experience the shimmy, NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean says that the escape tower was jettisoned and the launch is proceeding nominally. However, you can see a substantial amount of debris falling from the rocket, see there is no exhaust from the second stage of the rocket, and you can hear the emergency transponder beeping in the background.
You also hear a woman in the background call out a failure of the booster at 2:45 into launch, and later says “failure” a few more times. She also says that the shroud was separated, and that the power was on. What’s slightly eerie is the fact that the video for the planned mission profile continues on as if nothing went wrong.
And according to Space.com:
NASA has confirmed that Roscosmos has already created a commission to investigate the cause of the anomaly, although it doesn’t expect its counterpart to hold a press conference today. Hague and Ovchinin are being taken from their emergency landing site to Moscow. In a statement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed he had been informed the two crewmembers were safe.
NASA also told the ISS crew that the crew experienced forces of about 6.7 G – meaning they felt 6.7 times heavier than they would on the ground. That means a 200 pound adult would feel as if they weighed 1340 pounds. Yikes.
This photo does NOT need a caption! Wow….. Nick and NASA Admin Jim. pic.twitter.com/5xgh8dsDvw
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) October 11, 2018
This most recent failure comes just over a month after another failure on a Soyuz capsule that’s currently docked to the International Space Station. The crew found a small hole that was venting pressurized air from inside the ISS out into space, which one of the astronauts on board initially covered with his thumb. Russian media played up the rumor that the hole was intentionally drilled by someone on the ISS, however Roscosmos has been rather tight-lipped about the situation while the investigation continues.
The Russian Soyuz program has been one of the most reliable and is the longest-running program in the history of spaceflight, having started in 1966. But there have been a string incidents, such as the catastrophic Photon-M launch failure in 2002, the 2005 Molniya military communications satellite failure, and two failures in 2011. None of these launches had humans on board, though the 2002 launch killed one crew member on the ground and injured eight others.
It does bring a question I’ve raised before – why are we so reliant on Russian spacecraft?