The International Space Station (ISS) crew was surprised in August to learn that a leak was responsible for a slight drop in air pressure aboard the station. After an investigation, they learned that the cause was a small hole in the Russian Soyuz probe that docked with the ISS. While the hole was immediately sealed, the cause has remained a mystery ever since.
To investigate a possible cause and investigate the spacecraft's outer hole, the Expedition 57 crew made an "unprecedented spacewalk" on December. 11. After the aircraft engineers Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev had collected samples from outside the ship, they concluded that the hole had been drilled from inside the capsule, a finding that raises even more questions.
During the spacewalk Kononenko and Prokopyev released the thermal insulation and the meteorite shield on the spaceship to investigate the hole more closely. They also took digital recordings of the well and received samples that have since been brought to Earth with the capsule (on December 11) for further analysis.
Originally attributed to a micrometeorite, the drill hole was quickly identified as a result of drilling. The hole posed no threat to the station or its crew, as it was very small and caused a drop in air pressure of only one minute. However, after the mission controllers and crew identified the source, they did not waste time plugging the hole with epoxy and gauze.
The results of the occupation analysis were shared during a press conference shortly after Prokopyev and crew member Serena Aunon-Chancellor (NASA) and Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency) returned to Earth. The hole did not pose a threat on its return, as the section in which it appeared was discarded before reentering the Earth's atmosphere.
Prokopyev indicated that the cavity inside the capsule (meaning that it was drilled from the inside) and the Russian law enforcement agencies were investigating what caused it. Prokopyev also rejected rumors that the hole had been deliberately drilled, as a result of a statement he made in September.
At that time, Rogozin had said that they were unwilling to rule out the fact that the hole had been deliberately drilled, either during manufacture or while in orbit. This caused rumors that the hole was possibly part of a sabotage attack. The rumors were further inflamed by remarks by the former cosmonaut and the Russian politician Maxim Suraev. [September 4, 2004] On September 4, during a discussion on the State Duma leak, on September 4, Suraev openly talked about the possibility that mental instability might have played a role. "We are all living people, everyone might want to go home, but this method is totally unworthy," he said. "If it was the cosmonaut who did it, and that can not be ruled out, then it's absolutely bad."
On September 6, he re-explored this possibility and added:
"But if it happened in space and it is set by the commission, then I can once again confirm that just a fool in space flies, a mentally unstable person, can drill a hole because a vacuum exists because not only are you endangering yourself, but the lives of five people besides you are crazy, which means that you understand it I do not blame anyone. "
Rogosin has since carried back these statements claiming to have the news media At the time, he realized that even if sabotage were a remote possibility, an investigation would determine the real cause. During the press conference, Prokopyev also rejected the idea that that the hole could have been intentionally drilled by an astronaut. "You should not think so bad of our crew," he said.
These last statements have not done much to discourage speculation about the cause of the well. However, both the NASA authorities and the Russian Federation insist that the cause of the hole is unknown and fully investigated. Prokopyev summed up during the conference: "It is up to the investigative bodies to judge when this hole was made."
He also pointed out that this incident proved the readiness of the ISS crew. The way the astronauts quickly identified and repaired the hole showed that "the crew was ready for any developments," he said. Operations on board the ISS are continuing and Expedition 58 will be operational on 20 December.
The crew is commanded by Oleg Kononenko (who sealed the hole and participated in the spacewalk). These include NASA astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques as flight engineers.
Further reading: AP, NASA