Soyuz: The fall of Russian spaceflight

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On October 11, 2018, two astronauts piled into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for what should have been a routine trip to the International Space Station (ISS). But just a few minutes after liftoff, an issue with the Soyuz’ rocket—also called Soyuz—triggered an emergency landing, which both crewmembers survived in good condition.

Two-and-a-half minutes into their flight, cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and astronaut Tyler Hague felt the anticipated rattle and shakes as the four clusters of booster rockets separated and fell away. The rattling continued and the g-force of acceleration that was supposed to take them to the ISS was replaced by a moment of weightlessness.

It was not just their spacecraft that was brought down to Earth. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the soaring reputation of Russia’s space program has suffered its very own ballistic decent. And now, with the failure of the Soyuz launch, it lies firmly in the dust.

Hague spoke to the media and the pubic for the first time since the failed launch, sharing what it was like to be in the capsule and how he and his family are responding to the event. “I imagined that my first trip to the outer space was going to be a memorable one, I didn’t expect it to be quite this memorable,” Hague said in one of a series of interviews.

Throughout the aftermath of the launch failure, NASA has expressed confidence in Roscosmos (Russian’s NASA counterpart) and its operations, and there’s no sign that it will call of the partnership on the basis of swirling concerns about the state of Russian spaceflight manufacturing. “I have so much confidence in this relationship,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “I look forward to a very bright future for both of these countries and for all of our international partners.”

More than a quarter century after the Soviet collapse, Russia is becoming a space outsider—because of ideological shifts in the Kremlin, technological incompetence, an ineffective concentration of space-related industries into a state-run monopoly, Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea, corruption scandals, arrests and convictions of researchers and officials. “Russia’s space program is in a deepening crisis,” says independent space industry expert Pavel Luzin.

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