A capsule carrying the two crew members of a Russian Soyuz rocket that malfunctioned on lift-off has landed safely in Kazakhstan.
Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague are reported to be “in good condition”, both Nasa and Russian media said.
Search and rescue teams are now en route to the landing site.
The rocket had taken off for the International Space Station (ISS) when it suffered a problem with its booster.
The crew had to return in “ballistic descent mode”, Nasa tweeted, which it explained was “a sharper angle of landing compared to normal”.
The Soyuz rocket had taken off at 04:40 Eastern time for a four-orbit, six-hour journey to the ISS.
Mr Hague and Mr Ovchinin were due to spend six months on the station working on a number of scientific experiments.
Soyuz is one of the oldest rocket designs but also one of the safest. The malfunction appeared to occur around what is termed “staging”, where the ascending vehicle goes through the process of discarding its empty fuel segments.
The onboard astronauts were certainly aware that something was not right because they reported feeling weightless when they should have felt pushed back in their seats. The escape systems are tested and ready for exactly this sort of eventuality. It would have been an uncomfortable ride back to Earth, however. The crew would have experienced very high gravitational forces.
There is already much discussion about the current state of Russian industry and its ability to maintain the standards of yesteryear. Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, this event will only heighten those concerns and will lead the US in particular to redouble its effort to bring online new rocket systems, which have been in development. These vehicles are set to make their debut next year.