The ISS had a leak! And it’s not a micrometeoroid after all….

You may have already heard that the ISS experienced a pressure loss over the weekend.  It was so mild that controllers didn’t think it was worth waking the crew; they just told them in the morning and had them go hunt down the source.  Alexander Gerst found it, in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft’s orbital module.  He then put his finger over the hole, a solution which controllers drily said would not be a good long-term solution, so the Russian crewmembers patched it up with some epoxy and cloth tape.  It’s fortunate that the hole was in the Soyuz orbital module; that’s essentially a disposable portion of the ISS, there only until Soyuz MS-09 returns with its crew.  The orbital module itself could be sealed off after separation if there was concern about the Soyuz crew, as it is normally jettisoned prior to reentry.  But none of that appears to be necessary; the patch is holding fine.

Initially, this was believed to be a micrometeoroid impact, but the plot has now thickened.  As you can see in this picture, the hole is very neat, and next to it is a series of score marks as if a drill bumped along the painted surface inside the orbital module.

Clearly, this hole was made by a human being.  Dmitry Rogozin, the controversial director of Roscosmos, has stated that no theories are being ruled out, and that it could have happened on the ground or in space, intentionally or by accident.  But industry experts appear to be leaning towards human error on the ground.  RSC Energia, the spacecraft’s manufacturer, has launched a comprehensive inspection of all of the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft currently in production.  Some sources are also reporting that Energia has found the technician responsible, and industry speculation is that it was an accidental error that the technician attempted to repair with a sealant that eventually dried out and failed on orbit; Russian aerospace does have a blame-centric approach to errors, which does not tend to encourage people to report on their own mistakes.

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