1006 GMT December 11, 2018
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, was speaking a day after Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and American Nick Hague made a dramatic emergency landing in Kazakhstan after the failure of the Soyuz rocket carrying them to the orbital ISS, Reuters wrote.
Rogozin on Friday posted a picture on Twitter of himself sat next to the two astronauts and said they had now arrived in Moscow. Both men escaped unscathed and feel fine, Roscosmos said:
"The emergency rescue system worked, the vessel was able to land in Kazakhstan... the crew are alive."
The mishap occurred as the first and second stages of a Russian rocket separated shortly after the launch from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.
The incident came as the rocket was traveling about 4,700 miles (7,500 kilometers) per hour, just 119 seconds into the voyage, according to NASA.
"Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft," the US space agency said in a statement.
The descent was sharper than usual, meaning the crew were subjected to a greater G-force, but they were prepared for this scenario in training, according to a commentator on NASA's video livestream of the launch.
"An accident with the booster, two minutes, 45 seconds," the voice of Ovchinin could be heard saying calmly in live-streamed footage of the launch from Baikonur cosmodrome.
"We're tightening our seatbelts," Ovchinin said in the video.
"That was a short flight."
Thursday’s accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launch pad explosion.
The Interfax news agency on Friday cited a source familiar with the Russian investigation as saying that a faulty valve had caused the first stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket to malfunction even though the valve had been properly checked before takeoff.
NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the US retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, although the agency has announced plans for a test flight carrying two astronauts on a SpaceX commercial rocket next April.
Space is an area of cooperation between the US and Russia at a time of fraught relations. Asked about the mishap, US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was ‘not worried’ that American astronauts have to rely on Russia to get into space.
Moscow has suspended all manned space launches, while Rogozin has ordered a state commission to investigate what went wrong. Russia’s Investigative Committee has also opened a criminal investigation into the matter.
Rescue workers reached the site of the emergency landing and evacuated Ovchinin and Hague.
Photos released by Russian government and NASA Twitter accounts later showed the men embracing their families and enjoying a hearty Russian meal back on the ground.
"Thank God the cosmonauts are alive," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists.
Kenny Todd, the operations integration manager at the International Space Station said he "had every confidence that our Russian colleagues will figure out what's going on".
Unmanned launches of the Progress spacecraft — which carry food and other supplies to the ISS and use the same rocket system as Soyuz — might also be suspended, Interfax said.
The Russian space industry has suffered a series of problems in recent years, including the loss of a number of satellites and spacecraft.