Astronauts escape malfunctioning Soyuz rocket

Two astronauts are alive after dramatically aborting their voyage to the International Space Station when their Russian Soyuz rocket malfunctioned.

Russian news agencies reported that the crew had safely made an emergency landing and were in radio contact and that rescuers were en route to pick them up.

NASA rookie Nick Hague and second-time flyer Aleksey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency were setting off for a six-month mission at the International Space Station Thursday, on a relatively rare two-man launch.

The crew were returning to Earth in "a ballistic descent mode", according to Nasa.

The Kremlin confirmed the men had survived.

They were to dock at the International Space Station six hours later, but the booster suffered engine failure minutes after the launch.

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

Rockets use boosters to provide the thrust they need to launch from Earth and breech the atmosphere.

Russian and USA space officials said that the crew is heading for an emergency landing in Kazakhstan at an unspecified time.

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.

Search-and-rescue teams were headed to the area where the capsule was expected to come down for what a NASA TV announcer said was likely to be a "hard landing". Spacecraft returning from the ISS normally land in that region.

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