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Russian booster rocket fails on flight to ISS; U.S. and Russian crew land safely

AP, Reuters

Two astronauts from the U.S. and Russia had to make an emergency landing after a Russian booster rocket carrying them into orbit to the International Space Station failed after launch.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2:40 p.m. on Thursday from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket.

They were to dock at the orbiting outpost six hours later, but the booster suffered a failure minutes after the launch.

Footage from inside the Soyuz showed the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.

A reporter who observed the launch from around 1 km away said it had gone smoothly in its initial stages.

Russian news agencies reported that the crew had safely made an emergency landing and were in radio contact and that rescuers were en route to pick them up.

“Search and rescue teams are in the air and heading towards the expected touchdown location for the Soyuz spacecraft returning to Earth carrying two crew members,” NASA said in a statement.

The mission was to be the first for Hague, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013. Ovchinin spent six months on the station in 2016.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, but Russia and the U.S. have maintained cooperation in space.