Russian officials are investigating an air leak that was detected last week on a Russian Soyuz module docked with the International Space Station (ISS), and hope to reach a conclusion in the coming weeks, according to Reuters. The leak was the result of a hole that was apparently drilled in the module. Head of the nation’s space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, at first suggested the hole could be the result of a collision with a small meteorite, before saying it had been ruled out. On Monday, Rogozin said the hole was produced by drilling, whether on Earth or in space.
The roughly 2-millimeter hole was found following a change in pressure levels, on the inner wall of the module. Russian cosmonauts quickly patched the hole, and officials have said the ISS crew was not endangered.
According to Rogozin, there was evidence of several attempts at drilling by an “unsteady hand.”
Russian MP and Former cosmonaut Maxim Surayev suggested that a troubled cosmonaut could have drilled the hole in an effort to force a return to Earth.
“If a cosmonaut pulled this strange stunt – and that can’t be ruled out – it’s really bad,” noted Surayev.
The hole was drilled in a section of the ship that is left in orbit, and not used to return to earth. This also meant the hole was not a threat to the long-term health of the crew.
The agency hopes to complete their investigation by the middle of September. A NASA spokesperson, Stephanie Schierholz, said the American space agency is “confident they will identify the cause of the leak.”
However, they did not comment further out of concern that doing so could disrupt the Russian investigation.
One Russian space industry source said, speaking to the TASS state news agency, that the damage could potentially have occurred during testing on earth, could have been detected after initial checks, and then repaired in a hurry. The source noted that it would have been nearly impossible to drill such a hole in a zero-gravity environment.
“Someone messed up and then got scared and sealed up the hole,” that source suggested, saying the sealant used in the repair “dried up and fell off” in space.
Other Russian spacecraft will be checked for defects, according to another Russian space industry source. Since the space shuttle program was discontinued in 2011, US astronauts have used Soyuz space capsules to reach the ISS. However, private companies like Boeing and SpaceX are expected to take over that role in the coming years.