A rocket carrying an American and a Russian failed minutes after liftoff, but the astronauts safely made an emergency return to earth, NASA said Thursday morning.
Eight minutes after the Russian Soyuz rocket launched, NASA tweeted, “There’s been an issue with the booster from today’s launch.”
Eleven minutes later, it added, “The crew is returning to Earth in a ballistic descent mode,” meaning that it was falling without propulsion and that its direction was determined only by the craft’s momentum.
The agency added that ballistic descent means “a sharper angle of landing compared to normal,” potentially a threat to the crew’s safety. The angle of the capsule’s descent is carefully calibrated so that it does not overheat when plunging back through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Forty-two minutes after liftoff, NASA tweeted that the Soyuz capsule had landed back on Earth, although it did not say where. Four minutes later, it added, “search and rescue teams report they are in contact with the Soyuz crew, who report they are in good condition. The teams are en route to the landing site.”
The rocket was supposed to ferry the astronauts Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin to the International Space Station.
“Thank God the cosmonauts are alive; this is the main thing,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told journalists during a briefing.
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.