The International Space Station became a favorite topic of discussion four months ago after a two-millimeter diameter hole was discovered in the orbital compartment of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked at the space station’s Rassvet module.
Crew members became aware of the hole after noticing a steady drop in air pressure throughout the spacecraft. Upon surveying the entire space station, the crew members narrowed the source down to a specific location and found the small hole. At the time, they temporarily patched it with ‘space-rated’ tape, pending a full investigation.
Image Credit: NASA
Speculation about what may have caused the mystery hole left no stone unturned – one theory indicated that it was merely a manufacturing oversight, while another implied that it was the result of American tampering. NASA immediately denied the latter.
Pictures of the hole later made it to the Internet, showcasing what appeared to be ‘drill marks’ caused by a shaky hand on the inside wall of the capsule:
Image Credit: Chris B - NSF/Twitter
Investigations into the cause of the matter are ongoing.
In an effort to find answers, Roscosmos ordered two cosmonauts on a spacewalk Tuesday afternoon. The entire mission was streamed live via NASA TV:
Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev carefully made their way to the outside of the capsule and began slashing through its dense external insulation with a sharp blade to expose the hole on the outside.
Five hours into the spacewalk, the cosmonauts located the hole from the exterior of the capsule and took pictures. It was the first time the hole had been observed from the outside of the spacecraft. Curiously, there were no ‘drill marks’ to be found on the exterior, which certainly raises eyebrows.
Samples of insulation removed from the capsule’s exterior will be shipped back to Earth for forensic analysis to determine the cause of the hole. After collecting insulation samples and taking pictures, the cosmonauts patched the insulation back up.
The Soyuz capsule in question is poised to ferry three International Space Station crew members, including Prokopyev, back to Earth on December 20th. Fortunately, the part of the capsule that contains the troublesome little hole will not pose a risk to crew members inside during descent.
Now that the capsule’s hole has been examined both inside and out, it should be interesting to see what experts say caused it. Only time will tell, however.