American Nick Hague and Russian Aleksey Ovchinin were en route to the ISS when the secondary booster rocket on the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft they were in malfunctioned, forcing the two to abort the mission and parachute in a vessel back to the ground.
The mishap occurred as the first and second stages of a Russian booster rocket separated shortly after the launch from Kazakhstan's Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.
The astronauts were to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch, but the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an unspecified failure of its second stage.
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Rescue crews are now heading towards the emergency landing site in the barren Kazakh steppe to provide support for the crew. The agency said the rescue crews were preparing to return them to Moscow, and Roscosmos released still images of the two crew members receiving medical evaluation in Kazakhstan.
'The capsule is returning via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal.
A government commission has been formed to investigate the cause of the accident, according to a tweet from Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Russian space agency Roscomos will reportedly perform an inspection of the Progress Rocket Space Centre, where manufacturing of the Soyuz rocket took place.
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Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, who oversees space flight, promised to share all information from the investigation with the United States and said that manned space launches would be suspended until the end of the probe, according to Russian news agencies. If the booster fails again, at worst they will have only lost the hardware and no human life. The crew was able to abort, and their capsule proceeded on a ballistic reentry which touched down shortly thereafter. Last month, an oxygen leak was found in the International Space Station that Russia's space chief said was caused deliberately. The launch was to have been Hague's first space mission. NASA and Roscosmos will now need to make an unprecedented decision which could lead to abandoning the International Space Station; the first time it would be left unmanned since the Expedition 1 mission arrived in November 2000.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator who was in Kazakhstan to witness Thursday's launch, said in a statement that the failure had been caused by an anomaly with the rocket's booster.
Interfax quoted a source as saying the crash meant the three people now aboard the space station - a German, a Russian and an American - would be stuck there at least until January.
If Soyuz MS-09 is left attached to the Station past its design life, it will become unusable.
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