The rocket was equipped with four boosters intended to separate from the body of the ship simultaneously, before fluttering back down to Earth. Evidently, this particular aircraft did not perform.
"What is clear is that one of the boosters did not separate like the others," says Brad King, director of the Space Systems Research Group at Michigan Technological University and CEO of Orbion Space Systems."Once that failure occurred, all bets are off. I think I can say, I’m glad I wasn’t aboard."
Roscosmos followed up with a statement on Thursday, explaining that the failure was due to a sensor that had been damaged during the ship's final assembly at the launch pad, causing the boosters to fail and detach with synchronicity. As it turns out, the disaster all came down to a tiny bent pin.
Fortunately, in spite of the fact that this particular vehicle was flawed, the emergency safety features were perfectly intact. When the boosters failed to separate, the rocket immediately aborted its own launch, sending the crew capsule off to safety -- though there are likely a few emotional side effects that come along with falling, unexpectedly, from the sky.
"I’m most impressed with how well the automatic abort system worked," said King. "That could be the first demonstration on an automatic abort in a crew launch."
Still, it's somewhat essential that Russia manages to reconfigure their ships quickly -- the Soyuz rockets are the only systems with the capacity to access the International Space Station right now. In preparation for the next voyage, the space technicians at Roscosmos will dissemble then reassemble two other rockets, before conducting a number of Soyuz launches without crew on board.
Rescued NASA astronaut Nick Hague claimed that post-ejection, he'd felt a fleeting sense of weightlessness before he began hurtling back towards the Earth. “It’s like tossing a ball high into the air,” he explained. “At some point gravity takes over and starts bringing it back down.”