When Paulo Lozano, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of MIT’s Space Propulsion Laboratory, heard the news that a rocket launch was aborted Thursdaymorning, he was worried.
But he was soon relieved to learn the two crew members, American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, touched down safely.
“Usually these kinds of failures do not have a good ending,” he said. “I was relieved when I found out the astronauts were alive.”
NASA officials said the Russian Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft ran into trouble soon after it was launched at 4:40 a.m. from Kazakhstan. “Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft,” NASA said in a statement.
Lozano said it’s too early to say what caused the problem.
“It’s very hard to tell what happened,” he said. “There are so many things that can produce this behavior. It doesn’t happen very often, luckily.”
Lozano said the Soyuz rocket has been used for a long time and has a good safety record.
“It’s very well-proven,” he said. “Many times we don’t pay attention to launches because they happen so often.”
“I can’t remember the last time there was an anomaly in this rocket.”
One thing is for sure — the crew members did the right things to survive.
“We still don’t know what happened, but the safety protocols worked very well,” Lozano said.
The capsule carrying the two crew members parachuted down and landed east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Before it hit the ground, soft-landing rockets would have fired to cushion the landing, he said.
Both Hague, a US Air Force Academy graduate who earned a master’s degree in 2000 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ovchinin were in good condition after the emergency landing, according to NASA officials.
“The outcome was the best outcome we could possibly have,” Lozano said.
But the episode will affect future missions to the International Space Station, he said.
“It adds a lot of pressure not only on Russia but also the US,” he said. If the mishap sidelines the United States and Russia in the short term, China will be the only country with the capability of putting people in space.
“It’s super-complicated right now,” Lozano said. “The International Space Station is a very expensive project that requires maintenance. Now it’s going to be hard to know when a new crew will arrive.”
A thorough investigation has to be conducted and the findings analyzed, he said.
“All these steps will take time.”