Soyuz spacecraft crew lands safely

Astronaut and cosmonaut OK after second-ever successful mid-flight abortion

Photo courtesy of TASS/Getty | The Russian space agency Roscosmos is investigating why a Soyuz MS-10 malfunctioned shortly after takeoff last Thursday. The investigation is expected to keep the Soyuz program grounded for at least several months.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin narrowly avoided disaster last Thursday when the launch of their Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft was aborted after a rocket failure, forcing a crash landing in Kazakhstan.

According to the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the craft went into a contingency abort mode when the astronauts reported feeling weightlessness at a time during the launch when they should have felt the downward force of acceleration.

Although the second stage of the spacecraft had disintegrated and the onboard Launch Escape System had already been ejected by the time the abort was officially declared, the crew was able to escape by performing an emergency separation of the MS-10 spacecraft and firing the rockets inside the rocket’s fairing.

The spacecraft was then sent on a ballistic trajectory back to Earth but returned to the surface safely.

“I think often times people are inclined to look at situations like this as a negative,” junior Mitch Tapia said. “All they see is that the rocket malfunctioned. But honestly, I look at it as more of a positive that these issues can occur and yet technology has advanced far enough where the people involved are still able to get out safely.”

The astronauts experienced approximately seven G’s of force during the decent. The abort occurred while the Soyuz was traveling more than 4,700 miles per hour at an altitude of more than 50 miles. It landed about 250 miles from the launch site.

Both Hague and Ovchinin were recovered by search and rescue teams and brought to the nearby Jezkazgan Airport.

Medical tests confirmed that they were in good health, and the two astronauts were safely reunited with their families.

This incident marks the second time in the history of spaceflight that a manned rocket launch was successfully aborted mid-flight. A Soyuz 18a flight was similarly aborted after a separation failure in 1975. Both crew members survived that flight as well.

After the failure of the Soyuz MS-10 flight, the Russian government ordered that all future Soyuz launches would be suspended and that a state commission and criminal investigation would be formedto figure out what happened.

This comes in the wake of another investigation into an incident related to Roscosmos after a hole was discovered drilled into the wall of the Soyuz MS-9 capsule currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), causing a small pressure leak.

If the investigations keep the Soyuz program grounded, the ISS may have to be temporarily abandoned until the launch suspension is cleared or until the American Commercial Crew Program can send astronauts to the station.

This would be the first time in ISS’s 20-year history that the station would need to be abandoned. If this is the case, ground controllers can still keep the station safe from space debris and orbital degradation for a few years despite the lack of proper day-to-day maintenance.

Dimitry Rogozin, the chief of Roscosmos, said the crew will be ready to fly again next spring provided the investigations go well.

By: Michael Schmeling | Guest Writer