Bridenstine, Rogozin Discuss Soyuz MS-09 Hole, Will Meet in Person Next Month

Bridenstine, Rogozin Discuss Soyuz MS-09 Hole, Will Meet in Person Next Month

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Rogozin, yesterday discussed the investigation into how a hole was drilled into the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft currently docked at the International Space Station (ISS).  They will meet in person at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan next month at the launch of Soyuz MS-10, which includes a NASA astronaut. In a joint press release, the two agreed to avoid speculation on what happened until a Russian-led investigation is complete.

Jim Bridenstine , NASA Administrator  Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

In press releases issued by both NASA and Roscosmos today, the two agency heads noted rumors circulating in the media about what caused the hole and “agreed on deferring any preliminary conclusions and providing any explanations until the final investigation has been completed.”

The Russian rumor mill has been in high gear as detailed by Ars Technica, with Russia’s state-run Kommersant pushing a theory that it was done on purpose by U.S. astronauts.  Rogozin himself made the initial insinuation that someone onboard ISS might be responsible saying the investigation would “find out if it was an accidental defect or a deliberate spoilage and where it was done — either on Earth or in space.”  Yesterday, however, he backed off, saying such rumors are interfering in the work of the investigatory commission and “are designed to subvert the friendly relations” among the ISS crew.

NASA astronaut Drew Feustel emphatically rejected the notion that any of the ISS crew members was at fault, calling such talk “a shame and somewhat embarrassing.”   Six people are currently living and working on ISS:  Roscosmos’s Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Artemyev;  NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Ricky Arnold, and Feustel; and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Alexander Gerst.  Feustel is currently in command of the ISS.

The hole was discovered two weeks ago.  Ground controllers noticed a pressure drop in the ISS on August 29-30 during a sleep period.  It was not severe enough to wake the crew, but the next day they traced it to a small (2 millimeter diameter) hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.  Initial speculation that it might have been caused by orbital debris or a micrometeoroid was dismissed once it was clear it was drilled from the inside.  Russian crew members repaired it with an epoxy sealant.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Credit: NASA. The orbital module is on the left. The center section, the descent module, is the only part that returns to Earth.

Soyuz MS-09 docked with the ISS on June 8 delivering Prokopyev, Auñón-Chancellor, and Gerst.  It will take them back to Earth on December 13.

Soyuz consists of three compartments, only one of which is designed to survive reentry through the atmosphere.  The other two detach and burn up in the atmosphere. The hole is in one of the disposable segments called the orbital module, so should not affect the spacecraft’s ability to safely return the crew to Earth.

Rumors aside, the most widely-held view is that a technician drilled the hole by mistake during manufacturing and covered it up sufficiently that it was not discovered in pre-launch testing.  Soyuz spacecraft are built by Russia’s Rocket and Space Corporation Energia.

Rogozin requested yesterday’s teleconference with Bridenstine to discuss the investigation.  It was their first “meeting.” Each is relatively new to their jobs.  Bridenstine, a former military pilot and former Congressman, was sworn in as NASA Administrator on April 23.  Rogozin took the reins as General Director of Roscosmos on May 24.  He was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the aerospace and defense sectors, including Roscosmos, before that.

The two men will meet in person on October 10 at the Baikonur Cosmodome in conjunction with the October 11 launch of Soyuz MS-10.  It will take NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin to ISS.  Rogozin said in mid-August that the two would meet there, but NASA did not confirm it at the time.

In today’s statement, they “affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating the cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation.”

Rogozin’s successor as Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Borisov, also dismissed the idea that anyone on the crew did it:  “It is utterly impermissable to cast a shadow either on our own cosmonauts or US astronauts. … It should not be ruled out that faulty workmanship is to blame.” The ISS crew is “an integral team where there are no political disagreements and cannot be any.”




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