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12 October 2018, 10:12 | Dale Webster
Liftoff of the Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft Oct. 11. Credit NASA
A U.S. -Russian crew aboard a Soyuz spacecraft safely made an emergency return to Earth on shortly after launching on what was supposed to be a mission to the International Space Station.
NASA said the spacecraft was making a "ballistic descent" - meaning under the force of gravity alone - toward Earth and that search and rescue teams were heading towards the expected touchdown site.
Hague, 43, and Ovchinin, 47, lifted off as scheduled at 2:40 p.m. (4:40 a.m. EDT) from Baikonur.
It was the first time that the Soyuz - the main workhorse of manned space flight today - had failed on a launch to the 20-year-old International Space Station.
The Soyuz spacecraft launched today was to be the return vehicle for Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA, Alexander Gerst of ESA and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, who were to return to Earth on December 13.
After the booster failed, Ovchinin and Hague were forced to make a ballistic descent, coming back to the ground at a sharper angle than normal and causing higher gravitational forces on their bodies.
While the Russian space program has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other mishaps in recent years, Thursday's incident marked the program's first manned launch failure since September 1983, when a Soyuz exploded on the launch pad.
Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand nationalist politician who this year was appointed by President Vladimir Putin to head Roscosmos, said on Twitter he had ordered a state commission to probe the accident.
With the failure of this launch, there are far-reaching consequences for the world's human space programs, and for those astronauts and cosmonauts now on board the International Space Station.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is now the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the International Space Station following the retirement of the United States space shuttle fleet.
Russian flight controllers described the forces experienced by Hague and Ovchinin as six to seven Gs due to the lack of velocity when the failure occurred.
The incident comes as the US has been making progress in its quest to end Russia's monopoly on manned flights to the ISS by encouraging private companies to conduct launches.
Neither the United States nor Russian Federation will be able to send astronauts to the ISS until investigators determine why a Soyuz rocket experienced an anomaly after blastoff Thursday, complicating an already tricky launch calendar for 2019.
Search and rescue teams were heading to the area to recover the crew.
Both astronauts were said to be "alive" on Thursday morning, but their exact condition is not known - according to local Russian report.
In the event of a booster failure, mission control will normally cancel the flight to avoid endangering the astronauts on board. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew.
Unnamed Russian space industry sources cited by news agencies said it would be hard to establish what had caused the incident because the booster rocket segments involved had been badly damaged in their fall.
Russian Federation has suspended manned flights pending an investigation of the latest failure.
September 27, 1983: A Soyuz rocket that was to carry Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov to a Salyut space station caught fire in the final seconds of the countdown at Baikonur.
One of the pictures showed Hague smiling and another had him sitting next to Russia's space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin.
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