How Soyuz astronauts escaped after rocket failed at 4,970mph and pair plummeted 31 miles in terrifying 7G 'ballistic re-entry'

Then, 31 miles up in the rarefied stratosphere, the unthinkable happened: The rocket boosters failed.

"We're tightening our seatbelts," said Russian commander Alexei Ovchinin as he and American Nick Hague began a terrifying fall back to earth.

Less than three minutes into a 250-mile flight to the International Space Station, the new mission was simply to stay alive.

During a routine reentry, astronauts experience around 4.5 times the force of gravity, the same as a near-vertical rollercoaster.

But Ovchinin and Hague's descent was much steeper, inflicting as much as 6.7 G-force, according to one Russian official.

A NASA study found an untrained human could not withstand this extreme physical stress for more than five minutes.

It would be terrifying for a civilian but cosmonaut Ovchinin, who will have gone through hell in centrifugal machine, was ice cool.

"An accident with the booster, two minutes, 45 seconds," he said on a live-streamed video of the botched launch. "That was a quick flight."

Their capsule started a sub-orbital "ballistic re-entry",  just as nuclear intercontinental missiles do at hypersonic speeds before hitting their target.

Oleg Orlov, head of Russia's top space medicine research centre, said they endured more than six Gs during the sharp descent.

He added astronauts are specially trained to endure such loads and some have survived "abnormally high" forces.

In 1954, US Air Force officer John Stapp withstood an unimaginable 46.2 Gs for a few seconds, PBS reported.

Accelerating to 632mph in just five seconds, for an instant his body will have weighed more than three tonnes.

However, it is very possible to die even from (relatively) low levels of G-force: Ten can kill in a minute, according to a NASA report.

Russia has opened a criminal investigation into the botched rocket launch over Kazakhstan today.

News of the criminal probe comes after "traces of drilling” were found on a Russian spacecraft which docked with the International Space Station last month.

Moscow had already hinted at possible sabotage over damage found on the Soyuz MS-09 a few days prior, prompting a major investigation.

The damage was also “on the screen of the anti-meteorite shield that covers the spacecraft from the outside and is installed 15 millimetres from the pressurised hull”.

A drop in pressure due to an air leak was detected on the orbital station overnight to August 30.

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