NASA astronaut, Russian cosmonaut make emergency landing on earth

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Two Russian and American astronauts had a lucky escape Thursday after the Russian Soyuz rocket that was meant to take them to the International Space Station suffered a malfunction after lift-off, sending their crew capsule hurtling back to earth.

An American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut were forced to abort their mission to the International Space Station on Thursday, after a rocket failure mid-flight.

The rare failed launch of the Soyuz rocket - the workhorse of manned spaceflight today - is the latest and most grave problem to beset U.S.

The rocket had lifted off at 4:40 a.m. ET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a journey that was expected to involve four orbits of the Earth and take six hours. As a result of the defect, the spacecraft would not be heading to the ISS, but instead return to Earth using a "ballistic descent mode". NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin safely parachuted to the ground in the Soyuz capsule 42 minutes after liftoff, according to statements from NASA and Roscosmos. An emergency landing protocol was initiated and their capsule landed in a field in Kazakhstan.

Dzhezkazgan is about 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Baikonur, and spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.

Roscosmos director general Dmitry Rogozin, who traveled to Kazakhstan to bring the crew back, posted a picture of himself and the two men Friday, saying they are safely back in the Moscow region.

"Thank God the crew is alive", said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The descent was sharper than usual meaning the crew was subjected to a greater G-force, but they have been prepared for this scenario in training, the commentator said.

The taxi service to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) is taking no passengers until further notice. "Today showed again what an unbelievable vehicle the Soyuz is, to be able to save the crew from such a failure".

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But he said a replacement space station crew would need to be in place before SpaceX or Boeing demo launches next year.

"It's like shooting a bullet out of a rifle barrel", said NASA deputy chief astronaut Reid Wiseman during a press briefing.

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.

Wiseman said the astronauts were alerted about one second in advance by a warning light inside the capsule before it was separated from the malfunctioning Soyuz rocket. The launch was to have been Hague's first space mission.

Paulo Lozano, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of the university's Space Propulsion Laboratory, said the capsule "went down like a free fall".

Flight controllers kept the three space station residents abreast of the situation after Thursday's aborted launch. Russian space agency Roscosmos has released photographs of both astronauts being checked over after their abrupt landing.

The launch failure follows close on the heels of another Soyuz issue, in which a hole was discovered August 29 on the MS-09 spacecraft that delivered the most recent crew to the space station.

Ovchinin spent six months on the station in 2016.

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