Emergency landing following Soyuz launch failure

The International Space Station in orbit above Earth. Credit NASA

"Search and rescue teams are in the air and heading towards the expected touchdown location for the Soyuz spacecraft returning to Earth carrying two crew members", NASA said in a statement.

NASA's Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin blasted off to the orbiting lab on Thursday but had to make an emergency landing in their capsule less than two minutes into the flight after their Soyuz rocket suffered an unspecified failure of its second stage.

This was the 139th launch of the Soyuz program and the first abort during ascent since 1975 when a failure in second-stage separation triggered emergency reentry 21 minutes after launch.

The engines were seen to cut out, after which the Soyuz MS-10 spaceship holding Russian commander Alexey Ovchinin and Nasa astronaut Nick Hague jettisoned from the drifting launch vehicle.

The pair landed about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.

NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle programme in 2011, although the agency has announced plans for a test flight carrying two astronauts on a SpaceX commercial rocket next April.

NASA's top official suggested Friday that a new mission to the International Space Station could take place this year after Russian experts address the cause of a Soyuz rocket malfunction and the crew's harrowing escape from the outer edge of the stratosphere.

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Bridenstine, speaking to reporters in Moscow, also said he was confident that a planned Soyuz launch in December, which is due to transport three people, including one American, to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, would happen. Mission control told astronauts aboard the space station that during the landing, "the boys" experienced forces of about 6.7 G in a call that NASA later broadcast on the live commentary. But it was not the first time that a manned Soyuz rocket has been forced to activate its launch abort system.

The crew reached the ground safely.

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For years, since NASA's final shuttle mission launched in 2011, the US has relied on Russian rockets to send astronauts to the International Space Station, which is largely funded by America taxpayer dollars.

Some have sarcastically linked the failed launch with the news Ukraine has made progress in trying to make its Orthodox Church independent of Moscow. The crew, which was travelling to the International Space Station, is reportedly safe and in "good condition" after the scary failure was broadcast on the web.

Russia's rockets are now the only way to get astronauts to the space station, but all manned flights have been out on hold in the wake of Thursday's accident.

Malfunctions causing ballistic re-entry have occurred a number of times with Russia's series of Soyuz rockets - although this is the most severe in decades. However, the two sides have continued their cooperation in space.

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