U.S., Russian astronauts make emergency landing after booster rocket fails

A Reuters reporter who observed the launch from around 1 km away said it had gone smoothly in its initial stages and that the failure of the booster rocket must have occurred at higher altitude. The crew narrowly escaped before a large explosion.

NASA has not provided much detail about the failure, but confirmed in a tweet that there was a problem with booster separation. A cloud of sand billowed up as the capsule came down on the desert steppe.

The launch failure marks an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space program, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said all manned launches will be suspended pending an investigation into the cause of the failure.

"We are in communication with the crew at this point and hearing they are in good condition", a NASA spokeswoman in Houston said on the space agency's live video feed of the launch. Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft. He added that a "thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted".

Rescue workers reached the site of the emergency landing and evacuated Ovchinin and Hague.

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Hague was on his first space mission and was set to stay at the International Space Station for six months.

"Thank God the cosmonauts are alive", Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

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. Last month, the current ISS crew discovered a hole in the vessel that Russian Federation claims was drilled deliberately. He didn't say if he suspected any of the current crew - an American, a Russian and a German aboard the station. Their Soyuz spacecraft will dock at the orbiting outpost six hours later. "The crew has been saved". Last year, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin shared a ride to ISS.

The next re-supply run was meant to happen on October 31, the source was quoted as saying, but that was now in doubt since the Progress supply ship was propelled by the same kind of rocket used in Thursday's incident.

Billionaire Elon Musk's Space Explorations Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. have contracts to deliver astronauts to the ISS starting next year, which may threaten a key source of funding for Russia's space program. Helicopters have already dispatched to look for the Soyuz space capsule, she said.

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