Booster On Soyuz Rocket Malfunctions, Trip To Space Delayed

Oct 11, 2018
Originally published on October 11, 2018 9:14 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Crew members were forced to abort the launch of a Soyuz rocket today. The American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut are reported to be in good condition, but the rocket's mission to the International Space Station failed. And Russia's space agency says the program is now suspended. Joining us now with more, reporter Matthew Bodner. He is in Moscow and on the line.

Matthew, can you - to the degree that you know - explain what went wrong?

MATTHEW BODNER: Sure. So about two minutes into launch, the first-stage boosters on the Soyuz rocket decoupled. And the astronauts aboard the rocket reported vibrations, weightlessness at one point. This was evident from the footage that we could see on the live broadcast - clearly, not something you want to have happen. What happened over the next few minutes is not entirely clear yet. But the engine shut off.

The crew separated from the rocket, and they began what NASA calls a ballistic landing, essentially a very high-speed flight, unpowered, through the atmosphere to what ended up being their landing site. During this time, it wasn't exactly clear what happened to the crew. They were out of communication for a few minutes. But rescue teams have now recovered them, and they're on their way back to the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

MARTIN: I mean, correct me if I'm wrong. But it's my understanding that vessels, for lack of a better word - rockets, shuttles - are going up to the International Space Station on a fairly regular basis uneventfully. Was this a routine mission?

BODNER: This was very much a routine mission. For the past few years, this Soyuz rocket, as it's called, has been the only way to reach the International Space Station. And these flights go off every few months.

MARTIN: Huh.

BODNER: What the problem is is that while this has been going on, Russian rockets of different types have been seeing an increasing frequency of various failure. And officials here have, for a while now, insisted that the manned Soyuzes go through a special certification process, that special care is given to ensure that they remain man-rated, safe for man's flight. So this is a...

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you, Matthew. Let me just ask you, in the seconds remaining, the program has now been suspended. Do we know for how long?

BODNER: That's a good question. Three months at least - we'll see. There's a crew up there right now that only has a vessel that can return no later than December. So they need to find a solution before December, or the future of the ISS program is probably temporarily in jeopardy.

MARTIN: Wow. OK. Reporter Matthew Bodner on the line from Moscow talking about that aborted Soyuz rocket mission to the International Space Station.

Thanks so much, Matthew. We appreciate it.

BODNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.