Soyuz rocket hit by engine problem after blast-off, astronauts safe: Russian agencies

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The two-man crew of a Soyuz rocket are alive after they were forced to make an emergency landing on Thursday following lift-off to the International Space Station, the Russian space agency said.

Riding atop a Russian Soyuz rocket, the rookie NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40 a.m. EDT (0840 GMT; 2:40 p.m. Kazakhstan time).

The Kremlin confirmed the men had survived.

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Search and rescue crews are on their way to the Soyuz capsule, and were likely to reach it by 11.30pm, NZ time.

The rocket was en route to the International Space Station (ISS).

Rescue crews are now heading towards the emergency landing site in the barren Kazakh steppe to provide support for the crew.

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A Reuters reporter who observed the launch from around a kilometre away said it had gone smoothly in its initial stages and that the failure of the booster rockets must have occurred at higher altitude.

"Shortly after launch, there was an issue with the booster".

NASA and Russian Roscosmos space agency said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

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"Teams have been in contact with the crew". Dzhezkazgan is about 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Baikonur.