A booster rocket failed less than two minutes after launching a Kansan and a Russian toward the International Space Station on Thursday, forcing their emergency — but safe — landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
It was the latest in a recent series of failures for the troubled Russian space program, which is used by the U.S. to carry its astronauts to the station.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin were subjected to heavy gravitational forces as their capsule automatically jettisoned from the Soyuz booster rocket and fell back to Earth at a sharper-than-normal angle.
"Thank God the crew is alive," said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who watched the launch at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome along with his Russian counterpart, tweeted that Hague and Ovchinin are in good condition. He added that a "thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted."
Hague, 43, was born in Belleville and grew up in Hoxie. He is a graduate of Hoxie High School and the United States Air Force Academy. He also has an advanced degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Hague joined NASA's astronaut program in 2013 and completed training in 2015. This was scheduled to be his first trip into space.
Hague and Ovchinin, 47, lifted off as scheduled at 3:40 a.m. CDT Thursday from Baikonur. The astronauts were to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch and join an American, a Russian and a German currently aboard the station.
But the three-stage Soyuz booster suffered an unspecified failure of its second stage about two minutes after launching. Search and rescue teams were immediately scrambled to recover the crew, and paratroopers were dropped from a plane to reach the site quickly.
While the Russian space program has been dogged by a string of launch failures and other incidents in recent years, Thursday's mishap marked the program's first manned launch failure since September 1983, when a Soyuz exploded on the launch pad.
The astronauts were flown by helicopter to Dzhezkazgan and then by plane to Baikonur. Russian officials said they may spend the night in Baikonur before being flown to Star City, Russia's space training center outside Moscow, the Tass news agency said.
NASA posted pictures of Hague and Ovchinin undergoing a medical check-up at Dzhezkazgan's airport. One of the pictures showed Hague smiling and another had him sitting next to Russia's space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said all manned launches will be suspended pending an investigation into the cause of the failure. He added that Russia will fully share all relevant information with the U.S.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the space station following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet. Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.