NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin were forced to make an unplanned descent through Earth's atmosphere today following a malfunction of their Soyuz launch vehicle. The crew has now touched down in Kazakhstan, where they are being attended by search and rescue personnel.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan at 4:40 AM EDT. The occupants of the capsule located at the tip of the rocket were scheduled to undertake a six-hour journey to the International Space Station (ISS), where they would meet Expedition 57 crewmates Alexander Gerst, Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor, and Sergey Valerievich.

Unfortunately, Hague and Ovchinin never made it that far.

A few minutes after launch Roscosmos informed NASA that there had been an issue with the Soyuz booster. As a result of the defect, the spacecraft would not be heading to the ISS, but instead return to Earth using a "ballistic descent mode."

The descent profile for a ballistic descent is significantly steeper than the trajectory taken by astronauts returning from the space station under normal conditions. This subjects the crew to higher levels of g-force.

The abort mode was not improvised, and is a standing contingency for crewed missions to the ISS.

Search and rescue forces were scrambled from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the expected landing site, a journey of roughly one and a half hours. The crew were in contact with rescue forces prior to touching down and have since been extracted from the capsule. They are reported to be in good condition, and will now return to Baikonur Cosmodrome, before heading on to Moscow.

A state commission set up by Roscosmos to investigate the cause of the incidence is already hard at work assessing telemetry.

Source: NASA