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Astronauts cheat death as rocket fails in mid-flight

Astronauts cheat death as rocket fails in mid-flight

USA and Russian astronauts were forced to make an emergency landing Thursday after their booster rocket failed in mid-air en route to the International Space Station moments after the launch, according to NASA. They were due to return to Earth in December, but may now be stuck there at least until January.

Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the US has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to get astronauts to the Space Station. The capsule landed about 20 kilometres east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. While the crew endured higher than normal G-force, Russian and US space officials say they are in good condition.

The aborted launch took place in the presence of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine who was visiting Russian Federation and Baikonur this week and was a huge embarrassment for Russian Federation, which has recently touted plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon and Mars.

But something went wrong minutes after liftoff, sending the Soyuz capsule into a ballistic re-entry, NASA officials said.

"An accident with the booster, two minutes, 45 seconds", the voice of Ovchinin could be heard saying calmly in live-streamed footage of the launch from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome.

They were set to join the crew of Alexander Gerst, the station's first-ever German commander, as well as US astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopyev.

Russian rockets have been the only means of bringing crew members to the International Space Station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, although NASA has announced plans for a test flight carrying two astronauts on a SpaceX commercial rocket next April.

Roscosmos and Nasa said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown of its second stage.

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The rocket was transporting Hague and Ovchinin from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-month stay on the International Space Station. Search and rescue teams were sent to recover the crew.

Once returned to Baikonur, they were greeted by family and respective space administration officials, before being taken to the local hospital for precautionary medical checks.

Roscosmos pledged to fully share all relevant information with NASA, which pays up to $82 million per Soyuz seat to the space station.

During the descent, the astronauts were subjected to high G-forces.

Flight controllers kept the three space station residents abreast of the situation after Thursday's aborted launch.

Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian space chief, tweeted: "The crew has landed". The Russian space agency also sent 70 rocket engines back to production lines in 2016 to replace broken parts.

It was the first such accident in Russia's post-Soviet history and a major setback for its once proud space industry. Hague was supposed to be one of the spacewalkers.

RIA news agency, citing its own source, reported that Russian Federation had made a decision to suspend all manned space launches following the "Soyuz" failure.