A rocket flying up into the sky

The launch was going well until about two minutes in. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Astronauts have nerves of steel. They ride controlled explosions, strapped to giant tanks of rocket fuel. And every now and then, things go wrong. Last Thursday, two space explorers didn’t quite make it to space – but they lived to tell the tale!

Last week’s mission, Soyuz MS-10, was supposed to get two crew members, American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin, up to the International Space Station. About two minutes after launch, things started going wrong.

Around that time, four large boosters were supposed to be ejected from the Soyuz rocket to make it lighter. It looks like one of the boosters didn’t eject properly and instead crashed into the main rocket.

Luckily, the spacecraft’s safety systems noticed something was wrong. It deployed emergency rockets, which separated the crewed capsule from the rest of the spacecraft. Once they were safely away, parachutes deployed and the crew eventually made it to the ground about half an hour after launch.

This isn’t the first time that a crewed Soyuz spacecraft has failed during launch. The last failure was in 1983, where the rocket caught fire just before take-off. In that incident, the emergency system was triggered and the crew capsule pulled away, just seconds before the rocket exploded. Luckily, the crew survived.

There’s no way to make a rocket 100% reliable. But rocket scientists spend a lot of time making sure that their rockets fail in the safest way possible. That way, a launch that doesn’t make it to space can at least make it safely back to Earth.

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