A Soyuz rocket booster failed during the launch of a capsule carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin Thursday, forcing officials to abort their mission. The capsule made a "ballistic landing" and rescue teams recovered the pair, who are reportedly in "good condition," NASA says.
Hague and Ovchinin launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40 a.m. ET, heading to join the crew of the International Space Station. But more than a minute after launch, their Soyuz MS-10's booster failed.
Search and recovery teams had been predeployed to areas beneath the possible flight path. Helicopters were able to reach Haig and Ovchinin fairly quickly and extract them from the capsule. They then started the process of flying back to Baikonur.
A NASA TV commentator at Mission Control in Houston describes a ballistic descent or landing this way: "That means it comes in at a sharper angle to land than we normally land at. And that means that the crew inside experiences higher G-force loads as they go through the landing."
"That is a landing mode we've seen before," the commentator said.
A recording of communications between the space station and NASA stated that Hague and Ovchinin had experienced 6.7 G's — about the same as Apollo astronauts felt during reentry, according to Air and Space magazine.
A photo posted by Russia's Roscosmos space agency shortly before launch showed Ovchinin and Hague awaiting launch in their capsule — ready to complete two weeks of intense preparations and final tests at the Baikonur launch site.
"I'm grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was in Kazakhstan for the rocket launch.
Roscosmos says it is forming a state commission to investigate the aborted launch.
NASA says it chose Hague as an astronaut in 2013 and completed training in 2015; he had been scheduled to perform at least two spacewalks as part of his mission on the space station. He is a colonel in the Air Force.
Ovchinin was heading to space for the second time, having previously served aboard the station.
The two had been slated to join three crewmates on the ISS as part of Expedition 57. The trip to the station was to take them about six hours.
The launch took place one week after three members of the ISS crew returned to Earth. Since then, the station has been operated by just three people: Commander Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, and Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos.