On Tuesday, cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Oleg Kononenko went out of the International Space Station (ISS) on an important mission: locate and inspect the mysterious hole that led to an air leak four months ago.
The hole was plugged with epoxy resin and gauze back in August, but Russian space officials wanted the site surveyed on the outside. The hole is in the Soyuz capsule, which will be going back to Earth next week with Prokopyev and two other astronauts. There is no danger for the astronauts though. The part of the Soyuz with the hole will be jettisoned before atmospheric reentry.
It took the two cosmonauts about four hours to cover the roughly 30 meters (100 feet) to the capsule. It then took them another two hours to remove the 25 centimeters (10 inches) of insulating material to reach the location of the hole. Spacewalks are a slow process and this was complicated by the fact that the Soyuz has no railings, unlike the ISS. Soyuz capsules are not expected to be repaired while in orbit. Although the task was difficult, the time and carefulness of the two space professionals paid off.
“That is exactly the hole we’ve been looking for, guys,” radioed Russian Mission Control outside Moscow. Like on the interior of the Soyuz, the cosmonauts couldn’t see any drill marks. This fact deepens the mystery of the hole.
When the leak was discovered, the idea of a deliberate act of sabotage began to circulate. Some even considered that it might have been done in space. While that has been categorically denied and there’s no evidence to even entertain such an idea, people are still at a loss to explain it. Some think that the capsule was damaged on Earth and the hole sealed but not reported. The sealant might have then fallen off, thus exposing the hole.
The full spacewalk lasted 7 hours and 45 minutes, which you can watch in the video below. The two-person team collected material from the outside to the Soyuz, which they will take back to Earth to be analyzed. Finally, an answer to this mystery might soon be revealed.
[H/T: Press Association]