Roskosmos admits that Soyuz 'meteorite' hole had more earthly origins

All driller and lots of filler aboard the ISS

The boss of Russian space agency Roskosmos has confirmed that last week's air leak aboard the International Space Station (ISS) was the result of engineers getting handy with a drill.

Dimitry Rogozin, who famously suggested NASA transport its astronauts to the ISS using a trampoline, said that the hole had been caused by a drill, and identifying the culprit was "a matter of honour".

Pictures of the damage released by NASA and then mysteriously deleted (but preserved by spaceflight enthusiasts) show a puncture in the orbital module of the Soyuz spacecraft, which is due to take three crew members back to earth in December.

Earlier theories that the puncture was caused by orbital debris or a weakness in the Soyuz itself seem unlikely. Anyone who has enjoyed a drill jumping around during an attempt to create a hole will recognise the damage.

Slightly surreally, the head of Roskosmos also asked: "Where were these actions taken – on Earth or already in orbit?" The idea of an ISS crew member idly sticking a drill through a lovely, vacuum-warding wall seems absurd, but the space agency has a rich history of blaming cosmonauts when things go awry. Just ask the unfortunate crews of the Mir space station.

An unnamed source reckoned that the employee responsible likely tried to cover up the mistake with sealant, which finally gave way last week. The hole has since been resealed (although more work may be needed), and the crew are in no immediate danger.

Thankfully, the defect is in the orbital module of Soyuz MS-09, which is discarded during the re-entry with the crew securely sealed within the descent module. A pressure hatch between the two modules will keep the crew secure in the event of the leak recurring.

NASA has yet to release a statement on the matter, although it was swift to remove imagery of the damage.

The issue will be seen as further evidence of quality problems that have dogged the Russian space programme, with launcher failures and alarming landings endured by astronauts aboard the venerable Soyuz capsules.

NASA doesn't have much longer to worry about Soyuz issues. Russia has warned that its days of being a glorified (and pricey) Uber for NASA's astronaut corps are coming to an end, with the current contract expiring in April 2019 and no new seats on the horizon.

NASA's commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are due to launch their first crews in 2019 after years of delay. ®

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