(UPDATED) A Mystery Hole on the ISS Could be Sabotage
Astronauts have discovered a mystery hole on the ISS that appears to have been deliberately drilled into a Soyuz capsule.
Update 10/3/18: After an extensive investigation, Roscosmos released a statement yesterday regarding the mysterious hole in the Soyuz. It has concluded that the hole was made deliberately, meaning that it was, in fact, sabotage.
The statement confirms the conclusion of the first commission, which determined that the hole was not the result of a manufacturing error or an accident. The next step will be to determine exactly where and when it was made, which will be the responsibility of a second commission.
The Roscosmos statement doesn’t categorically rule out the theory that the hole was placed by an astronaut on the International Space Station, but following the initial reports, Russian officials were quick to point out that they never seriously considered that a possibility. Astronauts on board the ISS have mostly tried to stay out of it – at least publically – but US astronaut Drew Feustel, the current commander of the ISS, called the suggestion of crew involvement “embarrassing.”
The possibility that the hole was deliberately created while on the ground in Russia is the worst case scenario for Roscosmos. With several private competitors like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Boeing all preparing their own spacecraft for crewed services, the future Russia’s space service is increasingly bleak. Shuttling astronauts into space from countries without their own crewed spacecraft is a huge money maker for Russia, and it has steadily increased the costs. Since it began charging to take astronauts into space in 2006, Russia has increased the fee per mission from $21.8 million to over $81 million and climbing, more than 372-percent in just over a decade.
If there are hints of sabotage, that paired with the costs and the increasing number of alternatives will likely be the end of Roscosmos’s lucrative endeavors. Whoever and however this happened, Russia appears to be taking this very seriously. If/when the perpetrator is caught, expect to hear plenty more about it.
Original Post 9/4/18: Even as relations between the United States and Russia continue to chill on Earth, the International Space Station has remained a source of hope that there are some things we can all agree on. A tiny hole could change all of that.
Last week, the ISS reported a slight loss of air. It wasn’t big enough to be considered life-threatening, but any loss of air in space is enough to bring everything else to a grinding halt as the astronauts hunted down the problem. A small hole in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, currently docked with the ISS was the source of the leak and the start of a much bigger conversation.
The initial thought was that the hole may have been caused by a tiny meteorite that struck the spacecraft as it approached the ISS, and it took a few weeks to become a leak. Further examinations, however, have revealed that the hole is not from a meteorite, but instead was likely the result of a drill. The cause is still unknown, but the Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, hasn’t ruled out anything – including sabotage by someone on the ISS.
Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, stated that the drill hole seems to have been made by a “wavering hand,” and that it could have been done deliberately on Earth or in space. He also noted that it appeared that there “were several attempts at drilling.”
“What is this: a production defect or some premeditated actions?” he asked. “We are checking the Earth version. But there is another version that we do not rule out: deliberate interference in space.”
Rogozin went on to declare that this is a “matter of honor” for the company that made the Soyuz, Russia’s Energiya manufacturer. Maxim Surayev, a former cosmonaut who spent time on the ISS and current member of Putin’s political party, took things one step further. Surayev suggested that a current ISS resident may have drilled the hole as a means of being sent home early – a sort of cabin fever.
“If a cosmonaut pulled this strange stunt — and that can’t ruled out — it’s really bad,” said Surayev.
He did go on to suggest a far more likely option: that it might have been an issue with the Soyuz as opposed to sabotage. And given that astronauts endure incredible mental testing and conditioning, it seems more likely that someone on Earth would have messed up than an astronaut would potentially risk their own life and the lives of everyone on board – not to mention the possible future of space exploration – by drilling a hole into space.
The Soyuz spacecraft has been in service since 1966. It has, of course, seen countless upgrades and evolutions, but the Russians have decades of experience manufacturing them. The latest model, the Soyuz MS, was introduced in 2016. Soyuz MS-09, the ninth flight to use the new model, launched on June 6 and has remained docked with the ISS since its arrival.
One theory proposed to the Russian state media is that the hole could have been made after it passed initial checks. Someone may have hastily patched up the hole – either in an attempt to cover up their mistake or just through carelessness and haste – and the sealant eventually fell off. That could explain how a leak developed several weeks after takeoff.
“I wish to God that this is a production defect, although that’s very sad, too — there’s been nothing like this in the history of Soyuz ships,” Surayev said.
The hole is in an area where it won’t affect the spacecraft’s reentry or the safety of the astronauts. The leak was quickly sealed up with tape, so the effects shouldn’t carry too many consequences. Still, the ISS remains a spot of hope and optimism, and allegations of sabotage won’t sit well.
Russia will continue its investigation and if it is someone here on Earth, expect them to be very publically thrown under the bus.