Two astronauts are safe after an emergency landing following the failure of a rocket taking them to the International Space Station.
Nasa astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’s Alexei Ovchinin were flying at an altitude of about 50km on a Soyuz rocket before the booster suffered a failure minutes after launch.
Dramatic footage showed a plume of smoke coming from the rocket before the two astronauts were forced to perform a ‘ballistic descent’ to safety.
The pair successfully performed the emergency landing in Kazakhstan and were said to be in good condition.
Russia, which has suffered a series of recent mishaps, has launched a criminal investigation.
Hague and Ovchinin lifted off as scheduled at 2.40pm local time from the Baikonur cosmodrome, and were scheduled to dock at the orbiting outpost six hours later.
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Search and rescue crews were sent to the site of the emergency landing.
Roscosmos and Nasa said the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an emergency shutdown of its second stage.
The capsule jettisoned from the booster and went into a ballistic descent, landing at a sharper than normal angle.
The failure is the latest mishap for the Russian space programme, which has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said all manned launches will be suspended pending an investigation into the cause of the failure. He added that Russia will fully share all relevant information with the US.
After it became clear that the crew had landed safely, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Thank God, the crew is alive.”
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the International Space Station following the retirement of the US space shuttle fleet.
Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of the SpaceX’s Dragon v2 and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsules.