An astronaut had to plug yesterday’s leak on the International Space Station (ISS) with his finger, as astronauts worked on a solution to seal the hole.
As we reported yesterday, a micrometeoroid is thought to have hit the orbital module on the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, creating a hole about 2 millimeters wide. This caused the station to start depressurizing at a slow rate – one that would have removed it of air in 18 days.
While they were coming up with a solution to fix the leak, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst reportedly put his finger over the hole to temporarily solve the issue. He effectively touched space without a space suit, as was noted by @TechSpatiales on Twitter.
The leak was first detected on Wednesday night by ground controllers while the astronauts were sleeping. It was not deemed serious enough to wake them up, but they were put to work to fix it in the morning.
After Gerst’s improvised solution, the astronauts covered the hole with tape. They later used “epoxy on a gauze wipe to plug the hole,” according to NASA. More air was also pumped into the station, from the Progress 70 spacecraft, to maintain its pressure.
“Flight controllers in Houston are continuing to monitor station’s cabin pressure in the wake of the repair,” added NASA. “Meanwhile, Roscosmos has convened a commission to conduct further analysis of the possible cause of the leak.”
According to the Russian news agency TASS, the sealant used to fix the leak has proven to be airtight, so it looks like the problem has been solved. The pressure on the ISS remains stable, with no further leaks having been detected.
While a micrometeoroid is a possible culprit for this leak, it could also have been the result of a faulty seal or valve. "Anytime you're connecting something, it's just like a jar where you have a lid on it and it's got a little rubber seal,” University of Buffalo aerospace engineer John Crassidis told Space.com. "That rubber seal might break down and start leaking."
If it was the result of a micrometeoroid, this will not be the first time the station has been hit – and nor will it be the last. The ISS is designed to survive events like this, and while it is rare for a hole to be created, this incident won't have any impact on the station's operations going forwards.