NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin blasted off as scheduled to the International Space Station Thursday, but their Soyuz booster failed two minutes after the launch and the rescue capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Footage from inside the Soyuz capsule showed the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.
A transport plane dropped a team of paratroopers to the site to make first contact with the crew, while helicopters were dispatched to pick up the astronauts. But more than a minute after launch, their Soyuz MS-10's booster failed.
Thursday's accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before an explosion on the launchpad.
The only way to get astronauts from Earth to the ISS since 2011 has been aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. The derivative has been transporting crews to the space station since coming into service in 2001, conducting 55 successful flights in 17 years.
International groups of astronauts often accompany each other to the International Space Station in joint launches. Instead NASA astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin returned to Earth in a ballistic return of their capsule from an altitude of over 30 miles.
'The capsule is returning via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal.
A booster failure during a Soyuz rocket launch forced the two crew members to abort their mission to the International Space Station and return to Earth in the first such emergency landing for the Russian-built spacecraft since 1975.
A United States astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut are alive after a failure during a mission to the International Space Station.
The launch failure follows close on the heels of another Soyuz issue, in which a hole was discovered August 29 on the MS-09 spacecraft that delivered the most recent crew to the space station.
Russian Federation is now the only country taking crew to and from the ISS.
The hole was detected in August and quickly sealed up, but Russian newspapers said Roscosmos was probing the possibility that USA crewmates had sabotaged the space station to get a sick colleague sent back home. He didn't say if he suspected any of the current crew of three Americans, two Russians and a German aboard the station of malfeasance.
Questions are now likely to be asked about Russia's space programme. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew.
Rogozin, the Roscosmos chief, has raised wide consternation by saying that an air leak spotted at the International Space Station was a drill hole that was made intentionally during manufacturing or in orbit.