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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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China deploys anti-ship missiles in the desert making them harder to intercept

Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country's north-we..

Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country's north-west region, saying the weapons have the capacity to destroy US ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Key points:

  • The missiles can fire long distances and would be difficult for US ships to shoot down
  • Defence strategy expert Dr Malcom Davis said the move means China can back up its threats
  • The news came after a US guided missile destroyer passed through the South China Sea

The DF-26 missiles — which have been previously dubbed the 'Guam Killer' or 'Guam Express' by Chinese media and defence experts — are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.

They have a range of 4,500 kilometres, making them capable of reaching as far as Guam in the east and Indonesia in the south, providing Beijing with a powerful weapon as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea.

External Link: @globaltimesnews: China's df-26 missiles

According to Chinese state media publication The Global Times, the DF-26 missiles are now stationed in north-west China's sparse plateau and desert areas, carried on the backs of trucks able to traverse the harsh terrain.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Beijing-based military expert told the Times that positioning the missiles deep in China's mainland made them more difficult to intercept as it allowed the missile to enter its final stages at a high speed.

Footage on CCTV showed trucks carrying the missiles driving through rough terrain and sand dunes.

The missiles were first paraded in 2015 and China confirmed they were now operational in April last year, but this is the first footage of the missiles outside of a parade.

It is unclear when the missiles were moved to the northwest region, the Times reported. (more…)

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Melbourne driver who cheated death when sign fell on car in no rush to drive again

Related Story: Dashcam footage shows moment car was crushed by falling freeway sign

The Melbourne ..

Related Story: Dashcam footage shows moment car was crushed by falling freeway sign

The Melbourne driver who cheated death when an overhead road sign fell and crushed her car says she cannot believe such an accident could happen in Australia.

Key points:

  • A second sign on the Tullamarine Freeway has been taken down as a precautionary measure
  • An inspection of similar-sized sign and gantries is underway
  • VicRoads says an independent investigator has been brought in to determine what happened

Extraordinary dashcam footage shows the moment the five-by-four metre sign fell in front of, and then on top of, Nella Lettieri's car as she was travelling on Melbourne's Tullamarine Freeway earlier this week.

While the 53-year-old was not seriously injured, she is bruised and battered — and wondering how she is still alive.

"It felt like a roller door had slammed shut in front of me," Ms Lettieri said.

"I've gone to swerve, but as I swerved, it just felt like the sign was actually falling on the car.

"And it just kept bouncing, and I felt like it was pushing me to the right, and I'm thinking, 'OK, is it going to stop?'"

A woman smiling and looking off camera.

She thought the metal object may have been from a plane landing or taking off from the nearby Essendon Airport, or from a truck on the freeway.

But she was shocked to discover it was actually an overhead sign, meant to be directing drivers to their destination. (more…)

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In his Brexit speech in Wakefield, Jeremy Corbyn again demanded the impossible

Speaking in Wakefield this morning, Jeremy Corbyn restated his demand for a solution to the Brexit i..

Speaking in Wakefield this morning, Jeremy Corbyn restated his demand for a solution to the Brexit impasse that appears effectively impossible: a general election.

In what is likely to be his last major public statement before MPs vote on the withdrawal agreement next Tuesday, he attempted to redefine the terms of the question facing both the Labour leadership and its MPs – from those that threaten to stretch his fissiparous electoral coalition to breaking point, to those which, on paper, unite it.

That resulted in a speech whose thrust was an appeal to class consciousness from Remainers in Tottenham and Leavers in Mansfield, rather than any meaningful debate over the validity or viability of Brexit itself. “Youre up against it,” Corbyn said, citing austerity, stagnant wages, and the cost of living crisis, “but youre not against each other.”

Accordingly, his cursory repetition of Labours policy – that a second referendum should remain on the table as an option in the event a general election does not happen – came with a caveat so huge that it amounted to an implicit dismissal of a so-called peoples vote. “Any political leader who wants to bring the country together cannot wish away the votes of 17 million people who wanted to leave, any more than they can ignore the concerns of the 16 million who voted to remain.”

But despite the fact that his attention was more or less exclusively focussed on the question of what sort of future relationship with Europe would negotiate – with the fact of the divorce undisputed – Corbyn categorically ruled out doing anything but whipping his MPs to vote against the withdrawal agreement. The vast majority of them will do so on Thursday, after which point Corbyn said, as expected, that Labour would table a motion of no confidence in the hope of securing an election and with it the chance to renegotiate Brexit (rather than, say, holding a second referendum).

Notably, however, he did not specify a timescale for tabling a confidence vote after Mays deal falls – despite several of his shadow cabinet ministers insisting that he would do so “immediately”. He instead put on the record the more cautious line briefed by his team yesterday: “Labour will table a motion of no confidence in the government at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success.”

That statement of intent was followed with a caveat seldom offered by shadow cabinet ministers sent out to spin the partys line on Brexit. “Clearly,” Corbyn said, “Labour does not have enough MPs in parliament to win a confidence vote on its own.” As he himself alluded to when he urged opposition MPs to join Labour in voting against the government, Labours chances remain slim until such time that the ten DUP MPs drop the government. (That every other party will is a racing certainty.) Paradoxically, the defeat of the withdrawal agreement – and with it the backstop Mays sometime coalition partners object to – will make that chance even slimmer.

We know from what Corbyn said this morning that the Labour leadership will not whip its MPs to approve Theresa Mays Brexit, back a second referendum out of choice – both courses threaten its electoral base in different ways – or support any attempt by Downing Street to make the Brexit deal more amenable to Labour MPs by tacking on guarantees on workers rights. That strategy has held until now.

But failure to roll the pitch for any alternative at all – or, indeed, for the inevitable breakdown in party discipline after Mays vote is defeated and Labour has no way to bind MPs who seek mutually exclusive Brexit aims – will make the messy politics of the aftermath of next Tuesday rather more difficult to finesse.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. (more…)

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