Two Astronauts Just Had to Make an Emergency Escape from a Malfunctioning Rocket Headed to the ISS

Thursday, 11 October 2018 - 1:35PM
Technology
Space
Thursday, 11 October 2018 - 1:35PM
Two Astronauts Just Had to Make an Emergency Escape from a Malfunctioning Rocket Headed to the ISS
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At around 4:40 AM today, two astronauts set out to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. Less than two minutes into that flight, something went wrong, causing their emergency escape capsule to detach and fall to Earth at a dangerously steep angle, a procedure NASA calls a "ballistic landing." The astronauts have been successfully rescued and are apparently unharmed, but their rocket is toast and the space industry is a little rattled.

According to reports, the problem happened while the rocket was detaching from one of its spent boosters. Instead of experiencing uncomfortable (but expected) g-forces pushing down on them as the rocket headed for space, the astronauts say that they suddenly felt "weightless," which probably meant that the boosters weren't firing properly and the craft was not accelerating. The escape system kicked in and launched the astronauts away from the rocket, but the angle of their trajectory meant they were exposed to some extreme g-forces on the way down. The two astronauts, Roscosmos' Alexey Ovchinin and NASA's Nick Hague, were picked up by a rescue team after landing 310 miles from their launch site, Baikonur Cosmodrome. 

According to Jonathan Amos, a BBC science correspondent: "Soyuz is one of the oldest rocket designs but also one of the safest...There is already much discussion about the current state of Russian industry and its ability to maintain the standards of yesteryear. Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, this event will only heighten those concerns and will underline to the US in particular the need to bring online new rocket systems." In any case, Russia has announced that it will cease manned space operations until it can guarantee safety.

The emergency abort comes on the heels of another rough landing made by ISS astronauts, who had to use emergency measures to make a safe descent to Earth last week. Just when it seemed like space travel was becoming the equivalent to an exotic cruise (SpaceX recently announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has signed up for a trip around the Moon), the reality comes crashing back down: space flight is still dangerous, and things can go seriously wrong.
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