Above: The mission patch for the Soyuz MS-10. Soyuz spacecrafts are operated by Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, so the mission patch and the name of the Russian crew member (Ovchinin) are in the Russian alphabet, Cyrillic. Only Hague, the American astronaut's name, is in the Latin alphabet. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Soyuz spacecrafts carry astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the International Space Station. These spacecrafts lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But on Thursday October 11, 2018, the rocket failed during launch.

Crew members travel in a capsule attached to the rocket. When rockets fail to launch, the capsule automatically detaches and returns to Earth in ballistic mode. This means that the capsule, which is travelling extremely fast, has to quickly lose speed in order to reach the Earth safely. The capsule has to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at an extremely steep angle. This angle increases atmospheric drag, a force that acts on an object opposite to the way in which it is moving. Atmospheric drag slows down the capsule.  

Ballistic reentry can be physically very tough on crew members. That’s because in ballistic reentry, the G-force (the force of gravity on a body) on human bodies can be very high.

Under normal circumstances, humans typically experience 1 G. When you ride a roller coaster, you feel an increase in G-force for a few fractions of a second. That’s what makes those rides so thrilling. You even experience an increase in G-force when you cough or sneeze. But during their descent, the Soyuz MS-10 crew members experienced a G-force of between 6 and 7.

Nowadays, ballistic reentry is an emergency backup plan for landings. But in the early days of space travel, it was the only way to descend back to Earth.

Did you know? In the 1940s and 1950s, a U.S. Air Force doctor named John Stapp built a rocket-powered sled and tested how much G-force he could handle. He experienced 46.2 G’s.

There were two crew members on board the Soyuz on October 11: a NASA astronaut named Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut named Alexey Ovchinin. Doctors examined and monitored them after their landing. Thankfully, they both appear healthy and safe.

Did you know? People trained by the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, the European Space Agency, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are called astronauts. People trained by the Russian space program are called cosmonauts.

The Soyuz is the only way to get people to and from the International Space Station. That’s why it’s very important to figure out what went wrong.

Roscomsos, the Russian Space Agency, will investigate why the rocket did not launch properly. During the investigation, Soyuz launches will be put on hold.

Watch the video below for more information:

Soyuz rocket failure explained by former astronaut

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques is scheduled to travel to the ISS on December 20, 2018. Will this investigation delay his departure date? Stay tuned for updates.

Did you know? Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques was the backup astronaut on this mission. He would have replaced either of the two crew members if one of them could not go.

Want to learn more about life on the International Space Station? Explore Living Space, a project developed by Let’s Talk Science and the Canadian Space Agency.

Astronaut Nick Hague talks about the launch:

Learn more

A collection of Let’s Talk Science Resources on space
Let's Talk Science

Official Canadian Space Agency statement on the Soyuz Launch Abort
Canadian Space Agency

All about G forces
PBS

The Soyuz Spacecraft
Canadian Space Agency

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