A recent safety alert aboard the International Space Station (ISS) led to the discovery of a small hole in the shell of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which has been docked at the ISS since arriving with three astronauts in June.
The hole was originally thought to have been caused by a collision with a tiny meteorite fragment, but the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has now suggested that it could have been the result of an altogether more sinister act.
In a dramatic turn of events, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin said this week that the meteorite theory had to be rejected as “the spaceship’s hull was evidently impacted from inside.” He even went so far as to suggest that it could have been the result of “deliberate spoilage.”
In comments reported by Russian news agency TASS, Rogozin said the investigating team was “considering all theories,” but suggested the hole “seems to [have been] done by a faltering hand,” noting that “there are traces of a drill sliding across the surface.”
The Roscosmos chief said it was now “essential” to discover if the puncture occurred in space or back on Earth, and to find the person responsible.
“We will find out without fail,” Rogozin promised.
NASA insisted that the six-person crew was never in any danger when the hole was discovered last week, but with a drop in cabin pressure detected, it was vital to apply a patch as quickly as possible. And, using thermo-resistant tape as a temporary fix, that’s exactly what the crew did.
Turning the “sabotage theory” dial all the way up to 11, Russian lawmaker and former cosmonaut Maxim Surayev suggested that a homesick astronaut aboard the ISS could have made the hole deliberately in a bid to return to Earth sooner.
“We’re all human and anyone might want to go home, but this method is really low,” Surayev said in comments reported by the Guardian.
“If a cosmonaut pulled this strange stunt — and that can’t be ruled out — it’s really bad.”
He added that he hoped the cause was “a production defect” rather than sabotage, but said that too would be “very sad” as “there’s been nothing like this in the history of Soyuz ships.”
The Guardian’s report points out that the hole is in a part of the Soyuz spacecraft that’s discarded in orbit, and therefore is not used as part of the main vehicle that transports astronauts all the way back to Earth.
It would indeed be extraordinary if the hole was discovered to have been made deliberately, but investigators will also look at the possibility of the damage occurring during testing of the spacecraft back on terra firma, with an engineer perhaps trying to cover a piece of clumsy handiwork with sealant that later fell off after docking with the space station.
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