NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin were forced to make an emergency landing shortly after their mission launched yesterday.
It was an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space programme and a criminal investigation is now under way to determine whether safety regulations had been violated during construction.
Although Russia has decided to ground its own spaceflights until the issue is solved, NASA has stated that it will use the country’s Soyuz rocket again.
According to Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian part of the International Space Station (ISS), the next flight to bring the astronauts to the ISS is being planned for the spring of next year.
The malfunction affected the booster rocket, which appeared to fail to separate properly. The pair are alive after they landed safely in Kazakhstan, about 12 miles east of the city of Dzhezkazgan.
NASA’s deputy chief astronaut, Reid Wiseman, said the crew “handled their procedures exactly as planned” and are “in great shape”.
The craft was “about 50km in altitude when the abort occurred – just about on the boundaries of space”.
He added: “Russian forces were on the ground when the capsule touched down.
“The extraction happened not long after that.”
ISS operations integration manager Kenny Todd described the incident as a “major anomaly” and said he had “every confidence our Russian colleagues will figure out what’s going on”.
He added that “technical issues don’t know political boundaries”.
A comparison of the booster separation in a normal Soyuz mission and Thursday’s by meteorologist Greg Dutra apparently shows increasing debris and a less-symmetrical jettison stage in the aborted mission.
All Russian manned space launches have been suspended after the incident, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.
Spaceflight historian Gunter Krebs noted on Twitter that the situation reminded him of another Soyuz rocket failure in 1972, when “an in-flight booster failure occurred and the crew was rescued after ballistic re-entry”.
Malfunctions causing ballistic re-entry have occurred a number of times with Russia’s series of Soyuz rockets – although this is the most severe in decades.