On Thursday, October 11, the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on its way to the International Space Station with NASA American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Soon after the launch, there was a problem with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft and a safe return of both astronauts to Earth.
A ballistic landing during an abort sequence has happened four times in the Soyuz program. This kind of steep descent and landing is pretty terrifying, but abort systems are designed to help save astronaut lives during a mishap. The two astronauts received about 6 to 7 Gs of force on their bodies—that’s 6 to 7 times their weight.
Early Russian cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin and US astronauts like John Glenn made routine ballistic re-entries to get back down to Earth in the early space-race days of the 60s.
Here is the launch and abort simulation:
I am looking forward to the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch which will be the first US astronaut launch from the USA since 2011. (Crew Dragon has a Launch Abort Systems as well, see SpaceX Crew Dragon astronaut: A chance meeting in the desert)
The Mars Orion spacecraft also has an excellent Launch Abort System (See Mars Orion Launch Abort System)
The Orion Spacecraft has a very powerful Launch Abort motor made by Northrop Grumman that powers the Orion Crew Module away from the launch vehicle.
From my many visits to NASA facilities around the US, I have seen one main theme at the forefront of the US Space Program—astronaut safety. This is NASA’s primary focus.