NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin have been forced to return to Earth in “ballistic descent mode” after their Soyuz rocket’s booster malfunctioned shortly after launch, NASA announced Thursday.
The two crewmembers were launching on a trip to the International Space Station when the failure occured. Both are safe and back on the ground.
“The Soyuz capsule is returning to Earth via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal,” the agency tweeted.
“Search and rescue teams are heading towards the expected touchdown location of the spacecraft and crew.”
There’s no word on what, exactly, caused the Soyuz’s booster to malfunction, but NASA and Russia will now investigate the root cause of the action.
The latest from NASA is that search and rescue teams are in contact with the two astronauts, who are “in good condition.”
The crew was scheduled stay on the space station for six months.
It’s now unclear exactly what will happen next for the space station program. NASA, Russia, and other partner countries rely on these crews to perform experiments and staff the station continuously.
In fact, the station has played host to a crew every day since 2000.
.@NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/M76yisHaKF
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 11, 2018
The failure today will create a serious planning problem for the station managers as they try to figure out how to keep the orbiting outpost staffed in the coming months.
NASA has also been trying to wean off using Soyuz rockets at all, instead funding contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to create a fleet of vehicles to fly astronauts to and from the station instead of relying on Russia.
We’ll have to wait and see how this mishap affects those plans, if at all.
Miriam Kramer contributed to this story.
UPDATE: Oct. 11, 2018, 9:11 a.m. EDT This story was updated with more context and information about the mishap.