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Two astronauts survived a terrifying rocket explosion at 4,700mph with a 'ballistic descent' that plunged them to the ground in a 7G 'ballistic re-entry'.
Russian Aleksey Ovchinin and American Nick Hague dramatically returned to Earth alive yesterday after the booster on their Soyuz rocket broke and the craft automatically turned back from an altitude of 50 miles.
The rocket travelling at thousands of miles an hour malfunctioned on the edge of space on what was supposed to be a six-hour journey to the International Space Station, cockpit audio revealed.
Just 119 seconds into the voyage, the crew became weightless when they should have still been feeling the pressure of massive acceleration.
Using parachutes to slow their capsule’s descent, they landed 15 miles from the city of Jezkazgan in Kazakhstan, 310 miles from the launch site, and were later pictured smiling during medical checks.
Ovchinin remained calm after the astronauts were rocked violently around in their seats by the force of the booster malfunction, saying: 'An accident with the booster, 2 minutes, 45 seconds. That was a quick flight'.
'We're tightening our seatbelts,' Ovchinin said in a video of the dramatic malfunction.
Russia says it has opened a criminal investigation and grounded all Soyuz flights. The accident comes weeks after a hole was discovered in the International Space Station amid talk from the Russian space authorities of deliberate sabotage.
Video footage from the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome shows a large plume of smoke coming from the rocket at the moment it failed and footage from inside the capsule shows the two astronauts being violently shaken about.
The accident bears similarities to the 1986 Challenger disaster when one of its boosters failed at lift-off causing an explosion that killed seven.
Astronauts have been involved in Soyuz malfunctions twice before, one in 1983 when a crew was forced to eject from a Soyuz rocket as it exploded on the launchpad. In 1975 a Soyuz capsule crashed back to Earth from 90 miles up after a rocket failure, but the crew survived.
The rocket, which was designed in the 1960s, has also had one booster fail in similar fashion to today's malfunction. In 2002 a booster rocket malfunctioned and the rocket which was carrying a satellite crashed in Kazakhstan killing one person on the ground.
In total Soyuz rockets have been launched 745 times of which 21 have failed. Thirteen of those failures have been since 2010, calling into question the continued reliability of the rocket.
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Alexander Gerst who is currently working there shows the flight path of the aborted Soyuz spacecraft as it soared into the atmosphere and almost entered the Earth's orbit before eventually plummeting back to earth because of the technical malfunction in its booster. Gerst said: 'Glad our friends are fine. Thanks to the rescue force of 1000 SAR professionals! Today is again showing what an amazing vehicle the #Soyuz is. Spaceflight is hard. And we must keep trying for the benefit of humankind'
Alexey Ovchinin (center left) of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Nick Hague (center right) of NASA, embrace their families after landing at the Krayniy Airport in Baikonur, Kazakhstan after their aborted mission
The Soyuz is the only way to get people to the space station at the moment but officials insist the astronauts currently on the space station have enough supplies.
NASA rookie Nick Hague and second-time flyer Aleksey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency were setting off for a six-month mission at the International Space Station Thursday, on a relatively rare two-man launch.
A spokesperson for NASA said that rescue teams have now reached Hague and Ovchinin and they've been taken out of the capsule and were in 'good condition'.
Astronaut Nick Hague was greeted upon his return by family members and officials after today's botched launch
The craft's landing engines and parachute system were said to have done their job as normal despite the enormous G-force acting on both the shuttle and crew during the landing.
Shortly after the incident rescue crews and paratroopers were rushed the emergency landing site in the barren Kazakh steppe to provide support for the crew.
NASA had issued a worrying tweet on Thursday morning saying: 'There's been an issue with the booster from today's launch. Teams have been in contact with the crew.'
'The capsule is returning via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal. Search and rescue teams are heading towards the expected touchdown location of the spacecraft and crew.'
Cosmonaut Alexander Volkov commented: 'The guys are lucky that they remained alive. They had reached a good height so it was possible to descend in their capsule.'
The pair were forced to return back to earth following a problem with their booster rocket
US astronaut Nick Hague, left, and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, right, arrived at the Baikonur airport in Kazakhstan just hours after their narrow escape
The two-man crew of NASA rookie Nick Hague and second-time flyer Aleksey Ovchinin in the cockpit of the spacecraft during take-off. Hague had never been aboard a space shuttle before Thursday's launch, with Ovchinin only having been into space once during a previous six-month posting to the International Space Station
A massive plume of smoke could be seen firing out from behind the boosters in the dramatic moment the shuttle's engine failed during the launch phase. The astronauts on board were forced to make a dramatic emergency landing after the mid-air catastrophe occurred just three minutes into their six month mission
Smoke pouring out of the engines of the Soyuz rocket during the first stage of its launch on Thursday afternoon after the engine malfunctioned. NASA officials later confirmed that the second-stage boosters had failed after all four of the initial boosters had been jettisoned
A large cloud of dark-coloured smoke could be seen gathered in the wake of the spacecraft as it soared through the upper atmosphere. The dramatic episode took place 50 miles above the Earth but before the craft and its crew entered orbit
The Soyuz spacecraft had just finished phase one of its launch process and was preparing to enter stage two when its boosters failed. Roscosmos announced they would launch a full-scale investigation into the cause of the incident just hours after the failed flight took place on Thursday afternoon
The Soyuz spacecraft is based on the design of a 1960s model which hasn't changed much since it was initially introduced in the era of the Soviet Union
This graphic shows how the Soyuz-FG rocket booster propels the Soyuz MS-10 space ship, delivering astronauts into space. The booster suffered an emergency shutdown during the second stage of its launch procedure as the pilots were preparing to go into orbit
The Soyuz has three separate modules: An orbital module, a descent module and a service module. Only the descent module returns to Earth
The Challenger disaster in 1986 remains to this day one of the deadliest and most high-profile space catastrophes in the history of the world.
Seven crew members onboard the NASA shuttle orbiter mission STS-51-L were killed as a horrific explosion tore their craft to pieces on live TV with almost a quarter of the United States watching the harrowing tragedy unfold.
The disintegration of the shuttle began just 73 seconds into its journey after a joint in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff causing the entire craft to burst into flames and then explode.
The exact timing of the death of the crew is unknown, although several crew members are known to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft.
It is thought the crew members who weren't killed in the explosion would have died from the force of impact as the capsule slammed into the Atlantic ocean.
The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program and the formation of the Rogers Commission which found several deficiencies within NASA's preparation for the launch including prior knowledge of the weakness of the part which caused the catastrophe.
The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on January 28 1986. The disaster remains to this day one of the deadliest in the history of space exploration
Roscosmos, the Russian national space agency, and NASA said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown during its second stage.
'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.
The craft’s emergency systems worked as planned, but the incident is a huge embarrassment to the beleaguered Russian space industry – and to President Vladimir Putin, who claims Russia will launch a mission to Mars as early as next year.
The Soyuz rocket was due to dock at the orbiting outpost of the International Space Station six hours later, but the booster suffered a failure minutes after the launch.
NASA and Russian Roscosmos space agency said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
Former military pilots Ovchinin and Hague were set to join Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, NASA's Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos following a six-hour flight.
The International Space Station - a rare point of cooperation between Moscow and Washington - has been orbiting the Earth at roughly 28,000 kilometres per hour since 1998 and will mark its 20th birthday in November.
The astronauts of the Soyuz MS-10 are said to have switched into 'ballistic descent mode' once they were notified of the second stage booster fault.
This means the core automatically separated from the faulty booster and turned back to Earth.
The rocket came in at a much sharper angle than normal, allowing the craft to head as quickly as possible to the ground.
It is believed the rocket was travelling at more than 8,000 miles per hour (12,800kph) during its descent.
The astronauts would have experienced G-force pressure as high as 7Gs.
Rockets use boosters to provide the thrust they need to launch from Earth and breech the atmosphere.
They set the trajectory for the flight, and if they aren't running at full capacity could send the rocket in completely the wrong direction.
The Soyuz MS-10 rocket had four first-stage boosters strapped to its central core, which housed the second stage booster.
A booster can fail for any number of reasons, including incorrect fuelling, mechanical faults, computer glitches and more.
In the event of a booster failure, mission control will normally cancel the flight to avoid endangering the astronauts on board.
The rocket is put into an emergency landing procedure in which the main module - holding all cargo and any astronauts on board - separates from the rocket early.
Roskosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and astronaut Nick Haig pictured in the immediate aftermath of the terrifying incident. The pair are now in Zhezkazgan Kazakhstan and are being examined for any injuries or medical conditions arising from the 'ballistic descent'
The two men were reunited with their families after landing at the Krayniy Airport in Baikonur, Kazakhstan later on Thursday
The astronauts were forced to carry out a dramatic 'ballistic descent' in which they experienced G-forces of up to 7G at times. NASA said the emergency landing subjected the two astronauts to forces much greater than under normal circumstances as they hurtled back towards Earth
The craft's landing engines and parachute system were said to have done their job as normal despite the enormous G-force acting on both the shuttle and crew during the landing. According to NASA and Roscosmos, the spacecraft was unable to use its second-phase boosters after the initial separation
The Soyuz programme is an ongoing human spaceflight programme which was initiated by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, originally part of a Moon landing project.
There have been 138 manned missions, of which 11 have failed and one astronaut has died.
Here are some of the notable failures, including one in 1967 when an astronaut was killed, one in 1975 when two astronauts hurtle to Earth.
1967: Soviet astronaut Vladimir Komarov was killed during landing due to a parachute failure
1975: Two Russian astronauts had to abort a mission to a Russian space station at an altitude of 90miles due to a rocket failure.
They hurtled towards Earth and safely landed in the Altai Mountains on the Russia-China border.
One of the astronauts never flew to space again, never fully recovered from the accident and died aged 62 in 1990. The other made two more flights.
1983: A rocket malfunctioned during the countdown to take off in southern Kazakhstan.
Automatic systems ejected the two Russian crew-members just seconds before the rocket exploded. The fire burned on the launch pad for 20 hours.
2002: A Soyuz ship carrying a satellite crashed during launch in Russia when a booster suffered an engine malfunction. The ship landed near the launch pad, killing one engineer on the ground.
2011: A Soyuz-U mission carrying cargo failed to launch to the International Space Station when the upper stage experienced a problem and broke up over Siberia.
2016: Another cargo ship was lost shortly after launch, likely due to a problem with the third stage of the Soyuz-U.
August 2018: A hole in a Soyuz capsule docked to the International Space Station caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched.
The Russians claimed the hole was drilled deliberately in an act of sabotage either on Earth or in orbit. Another theory is that the hole was a production defect.
The spacecraft was said to have been travelling at 4,970mph as the boosters malfunctioned while carrying the two men into orbit. The Soyuz design was initially formulated in the 1960s and has formed the template for all future incarnations of the shuttle which has taken dozens of astronauts into space
Rescuers pack up the parachute gear attached to the Soyuz MS-10 space capsule. According to NASA the emergency landing devices and parachutes worked perfectly and neither of the two men on board the capsule were said to have been injured after the incident