Astronauts from US and Russia safely returned to Earth after a mishap occurred moments after launch this morning on their journey to the International Space Station. The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 4:40am ET today carrying American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft. A statement shared by NASA said, “Search and rescue teams were deployed to the landing site. Hague and Ovchinin are out of the capsule and are reported to be in good condition…NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”
After being recovered, Hague and Ovchinin were then transported to the launch site at Baikonur, where they were greeted by their families, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and other NASA and Roscosmos officials. Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency), NASA Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos Flight Engineer Sergey Prokopyev, who arrived at the station in June, were informed of the launch abort and are continuing to operate the station and conduct important scientific research.
Until experts determine what went wrong with today’s launch, the Russian Soyuz program is grounded as is NASA’s ability to get people into space. After the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the only way to send people to the International Space Station is by way of these Russian rockets for now; efforts to send people to space from SpaceX and Boeing won’t be ready before 2019 at the earliest.
There is currently a Soyuz capsule with the International Space Station; astronauts on the station now should be able to safely depart the station and return to Earth using it.
NASA held a press conference at their Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas this afternoon. Kenny Todd, International Space Station Operations Integration Manager, told reporters, “We have every confidence that our Russian colleagues will figure out what is going on.” He added, “This is a very difficult business we’re in. And it can absolutely humble you.” Reid Wiseman, Deputy Chief Astronaut, agreed with that assessment, describing how the business of getting to and being in space is a difficult one.
With Russia initiating an investigation into what went wrong today, there are more questions than answers about the short-term future of the International Space Station and scheduled launches to it.