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US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)

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The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-10 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, flies in the sky at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. The two astronauts are making an emergency landing after a Russian booster rocket carrying them into orbit to the International Space Station has failed after launch. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Two astronauts from the U.S. and Russia were safe after an emergency landing Thursday in the steppes of Kazakhstan following the failure of a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2:40 p.m. (0840 GMT; 4:40 a.m. EDT) Thursday from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket. Roscosmos and NASA said the three-stage Soyuz booster 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 G-loads.

NASA said that rescue teams have reached Hague and Ovchinin and they’ve been taken out of the capsule and were in good condition. The capsule landed about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space program, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents in recent years.

“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. He added that the president is receiving regular updates about the situation.

US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. 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 of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Yuri Kochetkov, Pool Photo via AP)

The astronauts were to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch, but the Soyuz booster suffered an unspecified failure and shut down minutes after the launch. Search and rescue teams were immediately scrambled to recover the crew and other paratroopers were dropped from a plane to reach the site and help the rescue effort. Dzhezkazgan is about 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Baikonur. Spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.

It was to be the first space mission for Hague, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013. Ovchinin spent six months on the orbiting outpost in 2016.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, who watched the launch together with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, tweeted that a panel has been set up to investigate the cause of the booster failure.

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-10 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, flies in the sky at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. The two astronauts are making an emergency landing after a Russian booster rocket carrying them into orbit to the International Space Station has failed after launch. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Earlier this week, Bridenstine emphasized that collaboration with Russia’s Roscosmos remains important.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, but they have maintained cooperation in space research.

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the International Space Station following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet. Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of the SpaceX’s Dragon v2 and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsules.

Smoke rise as the boosters of first stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz MS-10 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, separate after the launch at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. The two astronauts are making an emergency landing after a Russian booster rocket carrying them into orbit to the International Space Station has failed after launch. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Thursday’s failure was the first manned launch failure for the Russian space program since September 1983 when a Soyuz exploded on the launch pad. Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov jettisoned and landed safely near the launch pad, surviving the heavy G-loads without injuries.

Russia has continued to rely on Soviet-designed booster rockets to launching commercial satellites, as well as crews and cargo to the International Space Station.

While Russian rockets had earned a stellar reputation for their reliability in the past, a string of failed launches in recent years has called into doubt Russia’s ability to maintain the same high standards of their manufacturing.

US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
Director General of the Russia state corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin, right, accompanies Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, crew members of the mission to the International Space Station, ISS, to the rocket prior the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Yuri Kochetkov, Pool Photo via AP)

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, a move that resulted in a yearlong break in Proton launches and badly dented Russia’s niche in the global market for commercial satellite launches.

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.

Rogozin, the Roscosmos chief, has raised wide consternation by saying that an air leak spotted at the International Space Station was a drill hole that was made intentionally during manufacturing or in orbit. He didn’t say if he suspected any of the current crew of three Americans, two Russians and a German aboard the station of malfeasance.

US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, right and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), walk prior the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, member of the main crew to the International Space Station (ISS), waves to his sons from a bus prior to the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, right, members of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), speak with their relatives through a safety glass prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, a member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), gestures prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, right and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), walk prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, right and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), walk prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, right and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), speak prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, a member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), speaks with his relatives through a safety glass prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
US, Russian astronauts safe after emergency landing (Update)
Russian Space Agency experts help U.S. astronaut Nick Hague, a member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), to stand up after inspecting his space suit prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-10 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)


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