ISS: Space rocket declares emergency after launch - astronauts parachute out

Russian news agencies reported that booster rockets carrying the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft on a mission headed for the International Space Station failed mid-air, forcing the crew to abort the flight and make the landing. A Reuters reporter who observed the launch from around 1 km away said it had gone smoothly in its initial stages and that the failure of the booster rockets must have occurred at higher altitude.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, but Russia and the United States have maintained cooperation in space.

An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut returned safely to Earth Thursday after a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station failed shortly after launch. No information about the projected landing location or status of the crew were immediately available. The two were to arrive at the ISS about six hours after liftoff for a half-year stay.

"The crewmembers of Expedition 57 will continue work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the International Space Station, humanity's only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory", NASA officials said in a statement. Soyuz is now the only means for crews to travel to and from the station, with commercial crew vehicles by Boeing and SpaceX not expected to be ready to enter service before the middle of 2019.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft is seen moments after blastoff.