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ISS commander looked on as Russian rocket carrying two astronauts fell back to Earth

Related Story: Astronauts make emergency landing after rocket malfunction Related Story: Russia fear..

Related Story: Astronauts make emergency landing after rocket malfunction Related Story: Russia fears space station leak was sabotage

Commander Alexander Gerst was ready to welcome two new astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) — but ended up looking on helplessly as a catastrophic rocket failure sent the incoming crew falling back to Earth.

Key points:

  • The current astronauts on the ISS may need to extend their six-month mission
  • It is unknown whether Russia will be able to send replacements to ISS in time
  • NASA is looking at the potential of running the ISS without a crew

In a series of photos, Mr Gerst captured the moment a Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned at the start of what should have been a routine six-hour flight to deliver two astronauts to the ISS.

The failure of the booster rocket, just two minutes after the launch and at an altitude of 50 kilometres, activated an emergency rescue system which sent the capsule carrying US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin into a dangerous ballistic descent.

Footage showed the pair shaking around in the capsule, enduring gravitational forces of six to seven times more than is felt on Earth as they came down at a sharper-than-normal angle.

About 30 minutes later the capsule parachuted onto a barren area of steppe in Kazakhstan.

External Link: @Astro_Alex: Bin Froh, das es unseren Freundehn gut geht. Danke an > 1000 Rettungskrafte! …"

"Glad our friends are fine," Mr Gerst, a European Space Agency astronaut from Germany, tweeted from orbit.

"Spaceflight is hard. And we must keep trying for the benefit of humankind."

Astronauts make emergency landing after rocket malfunction

Future space station crewing arrangements now in doubt

Russia's rockets are currently the only way to get astronauts to the space station, but all manned flights have been out on hold in the wake of Thursday's accident.

Russian news reports indicated that one of the rocket's four first-stage engines might have failed to jettison in sync with others, resulting in the second stage's shutdown.

For the crew in the capsule, events would have happened very quickly, NASA's deputy chief astronaut Reid Wiseman told reporters at Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

Space capsule from failed Russia launch

An emergency light would have come on and, an instant later, the abort motors fired, pulling the capsule away from the stricken rocket.

Mr Wiseman said the only thing that went through his mind was "I hope they get down safe."

Astronauts Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin relax on a sofa as they undergo tests following the rocket emergency landing.

There was no immediate word on whether Mr Gertz and the current space station crew might need to extend their own six-month missions.

Two spacewalks planned for later this month have been postponed indefinitely, as Mr Hague was supposed to be one of the spacewalkers.

NASA said it was dusting off plans which would allow it to operate the space station without a crew.

The astronauts were to dock at the International Space Station six hours after the launch.

Kenny Todd, a space station manager, said the space station's current crew could only stay on board until January — just a month beyond their expected mid-December return.

But he said a replacement space station crew would need to be in place before SpaceX or Boeing demo launches next year.

Smoke after the boosters on the Soyuz rocket failed

Russia launches criminal investigation into cause

While the two men landed safely, the aborted mission dealt another blow to the troubled Russian space program.

It also was the first such accident for Russia's manned program in over three decades.

As a result, Russia has launched a criminal investigation into the rocket failure.

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster carrying the Soyuz MS-10 blasts off for the International Space Station.

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Russia would fully share all relevant information with the US, which pays up to $82 million per ride to the space station.

"I hope that the American side will treat it with understanding," he said.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to post-Cold War lows over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential vote, but they have kept cooperating in space.

ABC/wires

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Italexit looming? Majority of Italians would vote to leave EU as immigration tops agenda

Italy has turned out to be more Euroskeptic than previously imagined after a new survey revealed tha..

Italy has turned out to be more Euroskeptic than previously imagined after a new survey revealed that a majority of Italians want to see their country crashing out of the 28-member bloc.

According to an opinion poll commissioned by Brussels Eurobarometer, only 44 percent of Italians would vote to remain in the EU, compared to the member states average of 66 percent.

The figure is lower even than Britain, where a majority (53 percent) would today vote Remain if they had another EU referendum, while 35 percent would vote Leave. Britain announced that it was withdrawing from the bloc in 2016 after 51 percent of Britons voted for Brexit.

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Italy was also the only country in the bloc where a majority (45 percent to 43 percent) thought the nation hadnt benefited from its membership of the EU, Euronews reports.

The findings contrast with those published in June following an Ipsos poll commissioned by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which found that 55 percent would still vote to remain in the bloc, despite declining faith in the EU.

Commenting on the findings, EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani called on the bloc to strengthen efforts to convince member states of the importance of remaining an EU member.

“We must double the efforts to prove that the union knows how to give really effective answers to the main problems of Europeans, such as immigration, security and unemployment,” Italian newspaper La Repubblica quotes him as saying.

READ MORE: Italys deputy PM predicts political earthquake for European Union (more…)

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Ancient graffiti shows weve been wrong about Pompeii doomsday date all along

The idle scrawlings of an over-indulgent Roman builder may have just rewritten the history books reg..

The idle scrawlings of an over-indulgent Roman builder may have just rewritten the history books regarding the date that Mount Vesuvius obliterated the city of Pompeii in 79AD.

Recently discovered graffiti at the site has shifted the timeline of when disaster struck the Roman city, killing all of its roughly 1,000 residents and preserving many of them in volcanic ash.

Graffiti of the phrase “XVI K Nov in [d]ulsit pro masumis esurit [ions],” which roughly translates as “He over-indulged in immodest food,” was found written on the wall of a house that was apparently undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption.

“XVI K Nov” indicates the 16th day before the first of November, or October 17, contradicting the widely held belief that Vesuvius erupted earlier in the year, sometime in August, based on correspondence between Pliny the Younger and historian Tacitus 25 years after the disaster.

“Being charcoal, fragile and evanescent, which could not last long over time, it is more than likely that it is October 79 AD, a week before the great catastrophe that, according to this hypothesis, occurred on 24 October,” archaeologists at the site wrote in a statement.

“Today, with much humility, perhaps we will rewrite the history books because we date the eruption to the second half of October,” said Italys Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli, as quoted by The Independent.

The graffiti isnt actually the first discovery to cast doubt on Plinys claims. Archaeologists previously found out-of-season produce like calcified fruits on tree branches, preserved in the ash, such as pomegranates, walnuts and wine which suggest that Pompeii wasnt obliterated until the Autumn.

READ MORE: Pompeii unveiled: Jaw-dropping drone footage shows extent of citys excavation

The well-preserved remains of Pompeians also provided another clue as their tunics were far too heavy for August, indicating that temperatures had cooled by the time disaster struck. Many braziers, used for heating, were discovered strewn around the city, indicating there may have been a chill in the air at the time of the catastrophic eruption.

This latest discovery indicates that yesterday, 1,939 years ago, a bored builder left a mundane scrawl about overindulging on junk food a week before their entire city was destroyed. This might put modern tweets and instagram posts in perspective, but probably not. (more…)

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China plans to launch artificial moon bright enough to replace streetlights by 2020

Related Story: China's mission to go where no spacecraft has gone before Related Story: 'A..

Related Story: China's mission to go where no spacecraft has gone before Related Story: 'A warfighting domain': Is the global race for space supremacy reigniting?

China is reportedly in the process of creating an "artificial moon" that would be bright enough to replace the streetlights in the south-western city of Chengdu by 2020.

Key points:

  • Chinese scientists plan to install three artificial moons by 2022
  • The illuminated satellite is designed to complement the moon at night
  • The artificial moon could save hundreds of million of dollars a year in electricity costs

The illuminated satellite is said to be eight times brighter than the real moon, according to state media People's Daily, and forms part of the country's growing ambitions in space.

Chinese scientists plan to send three artificial moons into space in the next four years, and the moons — made from reflective material like a mirror — are expected to orbit at 500 kilometres above the Earth and light up an area with a diameter of 10 to 80 kilometres.

Wu Chunfeng, chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Corporation which developed the project, said the illuminating satellite would provide a "dusk-like glow".

"The satellites' brightness and service time are both adjustable, and the accuracy of the lighting can be controlled within tens of metres," Mr Wu told the state media agency earlier today.

Mr Wu added the three artificial moons would operate alternately in order to significantly reduce infrastructural electricity consumption, especially during winter.

The illuminated satellite is designed to complement the moon at night.

'Who paid for it and what is the purpose?'

A cityscape in China at night.

Mr Wu said lighting from the artificial moon covering 50 square kilometres in Chengdu could save about 1.2 billion yuan ($240 million) in electricity costs every year. (more…)

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