RUSSIA has opened a criminal investigation into the botched rocket launch which sent two astronauts hurtling to earth in Kazakhstan today, reports claim.
The rocket was carrying a Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut who had set off for a six-month mission at the International Space Station, on a relatively rare two-man launch.
But the members were forced to make an emergency landing after suffering a booster malfunction during launch in Kazakhstan.
NASA confirmed the crew had landed safely back on earth.
Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said the Soyuz capsule automatically jettisoned from the booster when it failed 123 seconds after launching.
Borisov added that Russia will fully share all relevant information with the US.
Four helicopters were scrambled from Kazakh bases to search for the Soyuz crew.
Search and rescue teams reported they were in contact with the crew, who said they were in good condition.
Earlier NASA warned the Soyuz capsule was returning to Earth “via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal”.
It said there was an issue with “the booster from today’s launch” during stage-one separation at approximately 50km (164,000ft) above the Earth.
Footage from inside the Soyuz showed the two astronauts inside being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.
Commander Alexey Ovchinin and flight engineer Tyler “Nick” Hague were scheduled to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40:15 a.m. EDT (GMT-4; 2:40 p.m. local time), roughly the moment Earth’s rotation carries the Soyuz MS-10/56S spacecraft into the plane of the space station’s orbit.
The pair were due to monitor a series of carefully planned rocket firings during a six-hour rendezvous with the lab complex, moving in for an automated linkup at the upper Poisk module.
But they got into trouble and were forced to make an emergency exit.
The major operation was triggered when flight controllers found a problem with the booster that was set to carry them up to the space station.
It was then that the astronauts conducted an emergency landing by switching into ballistic descent mode, where they experienced forces of up to 7G
“They are safe”
That means that the rocket comes in at a much sharper angle than normal, allowing the craft to head as quickly as possible to the ground.
NASA and Russian Roscosmos space agency said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 12 miles east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, about 280 miles northeast of Baikonur.
Spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.
It was the first space mission for Hague, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013.
Ovchinin spent six months on the station in 2016.
The incident comes weeks after a hole was discovered in the International Space Station amid talk from the Russian space authorities of deliberate sabotage.
“Thank God, the crew is alive,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when it became clear that the crew had landed safely.
Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter that he had already launched an investigation into the failure of the Soyuz-FG rocket.
“That work had “already started” and was exploring telemetry data to find the cause of the crash, he said.
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 US presidential vote, but Russia and the US have maintained cooperation in space.