Soyuz demonstrates finesse in flight and failure

Russia is now under pressure to prove its space program is safe and received a boost on Friday when NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said he had full confidence in Russian-made Soyuz rockets and expected USA astronauts to fly on them again.

Bridenstine, who is visiting Russia and Kazakhstan for the first time since his appointment as NASA head this year, observed the launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Rogozin. A Soyuz capsule attached to the station that they use to ride back to Earth is designed for 200 days in space, meaning that their stay in orbit could only be extended briefly.

"Search and rescue teams report they are in contact with the Soyuz crew, who report they are in good condition", Nasa wrote on Twitter.

Russian Federation was forming a state commission to investigate the Soyuz launch incident, Nasa said.

Russia says it is suspending manned space launches pending a probe into a Russian booster rocket failure, raising questions about the fate of an upcoming launch that included a Canadian astronaut.

The aborted mission dealt another blow to the troubled Russian space program that now serves as the only way to deliver astronauts to the orbiting outpost. The intention was to have them work as a team of five until December, when the three scientists now aboard would return to Earth.

In a series of photos, Mr Gerst captured the moment a Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned at the start of what should have been a routine six-hour flight to deliver two astronauts to the ISS.

Rescue crews then raced to the scene to retrieve them, including paratroopers parachuting to their landing spot, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, NASA said.

The Soviet-designed Soyuz rocket is now the world's only lifeline to the International Space Station and the accident will affect both Nasa and the work of the orbiting laboratory. The astronauts immediately reported a problem because they were feeling weightlessness instead of the expected g-force acceleration that should have pushed them back in their seats. The accident comes weeks after a hole was discovered in the International Space Station amid talk from the Russian space authorities of deliberate sabotage.

Russia's space program was already having a bad year.

This week's mishap marked the fourth time in the Soyuz program history that the ballistic mode of re-entry has occurred. "It has been a hard day", Bridenstine said on Thursday. He added that a "thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted".

"We can both do more in space together than we can ever do alone", Bridenstine said. "We're thrilled that even though it was a launch failure, all of the safety systems worked". Amid the still unresolved controversy over the mysterious hole in the space station, Roskosmos chief Rogozin has suggested that Moscow may not renew it. "We have resources well into next year for this crew, so there's no concern about resources on board". -Russian cooperation continuing despite geopolitical tensions.

  • Carolyn Briggs