Stunning new footage of last month’s near-catastrophic Soyuz rocket mishap, released Thursday by Russian space agency Rocosmos, shows the harrowing moment when everything went wrong, just as the rocket escaped the clutches of gravity. The incident, triggered by a mechanical failure, forced two astronauts to abandon ship shortly after launching from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) November 1, 2018
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin safely aborted the mission—bound for the International Space Station—descending to Earth in a capsule and landing near the Kazakh city of Dzhezkazgan. It was something of a miracle that they suffered no injuries. In the event’s immediate aftermath, NASA cited the Soyuz’ “ballistic reentry” emergency protocol—the method a capsule uses to return slowly to Earth with a precisely angled descent—as its saving grace.
It was the fourth time a Soyuz called upon ballistic reentry to avoid disaster, and the first major issue with a manned Soyuz mission since 1983. But that doesn’t make the event any less jarring. Investigators have cited a faulty sensor used to control the separation of the rocket’s booster from its core as the catalyst.
Chief investigator Igor Skorobogatov explained to reporters on Thursday:
“It has been proven, fully confirmed that this happened specifically because of this sensor, and that could only have happened during the package’s assembly at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.”
More reason for concern: The manufacturing issue may have affected two additional Soyuz rockets, Skorobogatov said. Investigators are currently subjecting them to rigorous inspection, and the heightened scrutiny is welcome after the latest almost-disaster. Right now Russia’s Soyuz fleet is the only vessel capable of ferrying scientists to the International Space Station. The world needs it.