Russia’s Space Agency Aborts Launch of 3 Astronauts to the International Space Station; All Are Safe

by Braxton Taylor

MOSCOW — Russia aborted the launch of three astronauts to the International Space Station moments before they were scheduled to lift off Thursday, but the crew was safe, officials said.

The Russian Soyuz rocket was to carry NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson, Oleg Novitsky of Roscosmos and Marina Vasilevskaya of Belarus from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.

The launch was aborted by an automatic safety system about 20 seconds before the scheduled liftoff at 1321 GMT. No cause was immediately given, but NASA said the crew was safe and would be extracted quickly from their Soyuz capsule.

Roscosmos hasn’t immediately said when the next launch attempt will be made.

The space station, which has served as a symbol of post-Cold War international cooperation, is now one of the last remaining areas of collaboration between Russia and the West amid tensions over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine. NASA and its partners hope to continue operating the orbiting outpost until 2030.

For Dyson, it was to be her third trip to the orbital complex, where she was due to spend six months. Novitsky, who was to make his fourth flight to the orbiting outpost, and Vasilevskaya, on her first space mission as her country’s first astronaut, were set to return to Earth after spending 12 days in orbit.

The three astronauts were to join the station’s crew consisting of NASA astronauts Loral O’Hara, Matthew Dominick, Mike Barratt, and Jeanette Epps, as well as Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub, and Alexander Grebenkin.

Russia has continued to rely on modified versions of Soviet-designed rockets for commercial satellites, as well as crews and cargo to the space station.

While the crew wasn’t in danger, Thursday’s aborted launch was a significant mishap for the Russian space program.

It followed an Octюber 2018 launch failure, when a Soyuz rocket carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin to the International Space Station failed less two minutes after the blastoff, sending their rescue capsule into a steep ride back to a safe landing.

Hague and Ovchinin had a brief period of weightlessness when the capsule separated from the malfunctioning Soyuz rocket at an altitude of about 50 kilometers (31 miles), then endured gravitational forces of 6-7 times more than is felt on Earth as they came down at a sharper-than-normal angle. The 2018 launch failure was the first such accident for Russia’s manned program in over three decades.

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