NASA astronaut, Russian cosmonaut make emergency landing after Soyuz rocket failure

NASA's Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Aleksey Ovchinin returned safely to Earth.

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Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched by Soyuz-FG rocket booster from Baikonur Cosmodrome

The Soyuz rocket blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday, shortly before a problem forced its crew to make an emergency landing.

Sergei Savostyanov/TASS via Getty Images

A NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut made an emergency landing after their rocket failed in midair Thursday morning.

Watch this: Rocket failure leads to emergency landing

The Soyuz MS-10 mission launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:40 a.m. PT (2:40 p.m. local time), but "an anomaly" with the booster forced NASA's Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Aleksey Ovchinin to return to Earth in an escape capsule, NASA said in a statement. The capsule landed east of the city of Zhezkazgan.

The pair were supposed to take a four-orbit, six-hour journey to the International Space Station. They were due to join European Space Agency's Alexander Gerst, NASA's Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos' Sergey Prokopyev for six months to conduct experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

The incident won't have a major impact on the work of current ISS astronauts, who're due to remain there until mid-December, International Space Station Operations Integration Manager Kenny Todd said in a NASA TV briefing.

NASA  said that the spacecraft separated from the booster and that teams "are in contact with the crew." The capsule -- which is largely automated -- returned to Earth in a ballistic descent mode, the agency said.

ISS Expedition 57/58 crew departs for Baikonur Cosmodrome

Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin (left) and NASA's Nick Hague, shown here before the mission, are "in good condition" after the emergency landing.

Alexander Ryumin\TASS via Getty Images

A ballistic descent is a sharper angle of landing than usual, but the space agency reported that Hague and Ovchinin made it back to Earth in good condition. Search-and-recovery helicopters brought them to Zhezkazgan, where they reported on the incident and underwent a medical checkup ahead of their journey to Baikonur, Kazakhstan. They'll ultimately return to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, just outside Moscow.

It was Hague's first space mission, NASA tweeted before the launch, and Ovchinin's second, RTE reported.

Below are images of the two men after they were back on Earth. NASA also posted the images.

"Thank God the cosmonauts are alive," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists as the Kremlin confirmed Hague's and Ovchinin's survival.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he's "grateful that everyone is safe."

Roscosmos is forming a state commission to investigate the cause of Thursday's incident.

Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut with the European Space Agency, expressed his relief that Hague and Ovchinin were unhurt.

"Glad our friends are fine. Thanks to the rescue force of >1000 SAR professionals! Today showed again what an amazing vehicle the #Soyuz is, to be able to save the crew from such a failure. Spaceflight is hard. And we must keep trying for the benefit of humankind," he tweeted from the ISS.

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The malfunction may have occurred during "staging" -- when the rocket was going through the process of discarding empty fuel segments -- and the crew was tipped off to the problem because they felt weightless as they should've felt pushed back in their seats, according to a BBC analyst.

While the capsule was prepared for this scenario, the crew would've endured very high gravitational forces and had an uncomfortable journey back to Earth during the ballistic descent, the analyst wrote.

First published Oct. 11, 2:36 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:53 a.m.: Adds detail from NASA TV briefing.

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