Just a couple weeks ago, Russian cosmonauts performed a spacewalk at the International Space Station to investigate the mysterious two-millimeter hole that manifested in the orbital compartment of the Soyuz spacecraft docked at the space station’s Rassvet module. Samples were then collected for investigation, and the spacecraft would later be used to ferry three crew members back to Earth.
Image Credit: Chris B - NSF/Twitter
But despite all the investigations and finger-pointing happening between NASA and Roscosmos, are we any closer to discerning what caused the hole in the first place? Perhaps not; however, the investigations did eliminate the notion that a micrometeoroid strike caused the hole. Instead, it was almost surely created from the inside of the spacecraft, perhaps by a drill.
These alarming circumstances have shaken things up at both space agencies. While International Space Station crew members were never in any apparent danger from the slow drop in cabin air pressure because of the hole, the idea that crew members were potentially placed in harm’s way is nothing short of an upsetting thought.
When Roscosmos first heard about the situation, they were particularly quick to point the finger at NASA astronauts on the International Space Station, suggesting that perhaps one of the astronauts was homesick and wanted to return home early. NASA’s response to the accusation wasn’t anywhere in the same ballpark.
Instead, the American space agency suggested that the hole may have been drilled during the manufacturing process and a botched repair job on Earth’s surface led to the eventual degradation of the sealant in outer space. Citing crew members that were on the International Space Station at the time, NASA’s explanation seems to be the most likely.
Not only are the crew members honorable experts carrying out their line of work like true professionals would, but the International Space Station isn’t that large of a place. If someone had been drilling into one of the spacecraft modules docked there, then someone onboard would have heard or seen something, and this would have made the public news sooner.
If the drilling indeed took place on Earth as NASA suggests, then it raises alternative concerns. For one, crew member safety has always been a top priority of both space agencies, and the idea that someone messed up and botched the repair is a disturbing thought. Alternatively, the even dirtier thought that someone on the ground tried to sabotage International Space Station crew members raises further concern.
“It’s still pretty obvious that it was a man-made hole. The hole was there, and it was just covered by a little glue, so the question is how did it get there?” explained mission commander Alexander Gerst in an interview with Radio 4’s Today program.
‘It was pretty clear in my opinion that it was not the crew that sprung the leak. That was just a few misunderstandings they had out there.
As of this writing, the true origin of the hole remains a daunting mystery; but it seems evident from the drill marks on the inside of the spacecraft that this wasn’t caused from the outside. This event must have transpired either in manufacturing or while the spacecraft was docked at the International Space Station, and neither thought brings peace of mind.
Investigations are likely to continue as both space agencies attempt to solve the mystery. It should be interesting to see what conclusion they reach if any.