The story about the hole discovered on the International Space Station (ISS) last week has taken an unexpected twist – as it may have been drilled by a person.
On August 29, a slow leak was reported on the ISS from a hole on a docked Soyuz spacecraft. Astronauts patched it up pretty quickly, although one of them did have to temporarily plug it with his finger.
Originally it was thought the hole was caused by a micrometeoroid hitting the orbital segment of the Soyuz spacecraft. But now Russian websites are reporting that the hole may have been the result of a “technological error”, meaning someone on Earth or in space accidentally – or intentionally – drilled the hole.
In a rather stunning quote, the CEO of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said they were considering whether the hole “was an accidental defect or a deliberate spoilage,” reports the website TASS.
"We are considering all the theories,” said Rogozin. “The one about a meteorite impact has been rejected because the spaceship’s hull was evidently impacted from inside. However, it is too early to say definitely what happened. But, it seems to be done by a faltering hand.”
Rogozin said there were “traces of a drill sliding along the surface,” and said it was a “matter of honor” to work out who had caused the error. “Now it is essential to see the reason, to learn the name of the one responsible for that. And we will find out, without fail,” he rather ominously added.
The hole was very small, about two millimeters (0.08 inches) across, resulting in a very slow leak. By some estimates, it would have taken 18 days for the ISS to run out of air if the leak had been left unplugged.
Astronauts ultimately blocked the hole with sealant, and the leak has now been stopped. It also doesn’t seem like the Soyuz spacecraft, which will later be used to take astronauts back to Earth, is in danger. The leak was in the orbital segment, which is detached before re-entry.
Russian news site RIA Novosti has quoted two sources as saying that the hole was the result of a worker error on the ground by Russian aerospace company RKK Energia. One source said the “person responsible for the act of negligence has been identified.”
But it’s still rather shocking to hear Rogozin suggest this could have been deliberate – however unlikely that may seem. NASA has yet to comment on the development.
The crew on the ISS had a quiet Labor Day weekend following the drama, before returning to work as normal this week. For the worker that caused the hole, we imagine their weekend was a little bit more stressful.