A normally reliable Soyuz FG rocket malfunctioned two minutes after liftoff from Kazakhstan Thursday. The malfunction forced a Russian cosmonaut and his NASA crewmate to execute an emergency abort and a steep-but-safe return to Earth a few hundred miles from the launch site. Russian recovery crews reported the crew came through the ordeal in good shape.
Ovchinin and Hague blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:40 a.m. EDT (GMT-4; 2:40 p.m. local time), kicking off what was expected to be a four-orbit six-hour flight to the International Space Station.
But two minutes and two seconds after liftoff, just a few seconds after the rocket's four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters separated from the central core stage, something went wrong.
"Failure of the booster," a translator called out, presumably relaying a report from Ovchinin to Russian mission control near Moscow. "Failure of the booster." Moments later, he confirmed the Soyuz had separated from the rocket's upper stage, saying "we are in weightlessness."
Moments after that, as the spacecraft plunged back into the thick lower atmosphere, it rapidly decelerated, subjected the crew to nearly seven times the normal force of gravity at one point.
It was not immediately known what might have gone wrong with the Soyuz FG booster, but Dmitri Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, said a State Commission would investigate the mishap, adding in a tweet "the Soyuz MS emergency rescue system worked. The crew is saved."
Does anyone know why there were only 2 crew member aboard?