Rogozin Wants to Know Who Made the Hole in Soyuz MS-09, NASA to Support Investigation

Rogozin Wants to Know Who Made the Hole in Soyuz MS-09, NASA to Support Investigation

NASA said today it will support the work of a Russian commission investigating how a hole was made in a Soyuz spacecraft that is docked at the International Space Station (ISS).  A pressure drop in the ISS last week was traced to the hole. Russian cosmonauts repaired it with an epoxy sealant.  The fix appears to be holding but how the hole, which was drilled, not created by space debris or a meteorite, got there is a mystery.  The head of Russia’s space agency said he was not ruling out anything, including whether it was made on Earth or in space.

Since 2011 when the United States terminated the space shuttle program, Russia has been the only country capable of ferrying crews to and from the ISS using its Soyuz spacecraft.  The Soyuz design dates back to the 1960s, but has been upgraded a number of times over the decades.  The current version is designated Soyuz MS.

The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked with the ISS on June 8, 2018, delivering Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and European astronaut Alexander Gerst.  It will also take them back to Earth at their end of their mission on December 13, 2018. The Soyuz splits into three sections during reentry, only one of which returns the crew to the surface.  The other two burn up in the atmosphere.  The hole is in a segment, the orbital compartment, that does not return to Earth.

The leak was detected last Wednesday night while the crew was sleeping. It was so small that ground controllers did not wake them. On Thursday, they traced the leak to the Soyuz and discovered a hole 2 millimeters in diameter in the orbital compartment.  Prokopyev temporarily covered it with Kapton tape and later used epoxy on a gauze wipe to plug it.  NASA and Roscosmos repeatedly said the crew was never in any danger.

Chris Bergin of (not affiliated with NASA) tweeted this photo of the hole, which he said was released, but later deleted, by NASA.

Since yesterday, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin has been quoted in several Russian news outlets as confirming that the hole was made with a drill and he wants to know who did it.  “It was done with a human hand–there are traces of a drill sliding along the surface,” Russia’s official news agency TASS (in English) quoted him as saying. He is not ruling out any possibilities, including that it may have been done in space.

“It is a matter of honor for Energia Rocket and Space Corporation to find out the one responsible for that, to find out whether it was an accidental defect or a deliberate spoilage and where it was done — either on Earth or in space. 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.”  — Dmitry Rogozin

The hypothesis that someone aboard the ISS might have deliberately caused the damage is bewildering at best.  It seems exceedingly unlikely that any ISS resident would endanger themselves or their crewmates by such an action.  A six-person international crew is aboard: Roscosmos’s Prokopyev and Oleg Artemyev;  NASA’s Auñón-Chancellor, Ricky Arnold, and Drew Feustel; and ESA’s Gerst.

TASS later quoted a Russian technical expert, Alexander Zheleznyakov of the K. E. Tsiolkvosky Russian Academy of Astronautics, as saying it almost certainly was drilled on Earth. “Why should any of the crew try to do that? I would not like to use the word nonsense, but all this does not fit with logic.”

Rogozin was renowned for his intemperate remarks while he was the Russian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defense and aerospace sectors from 2011-2018.  Russian President Vladimir Putin removed him from that position in May and made him head of Roscosmos instead.  Rogozin is among the Russians sanctioned by the United States and Europe following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Afterwards he tweeted that the United States could use a trampoline to get its astronauts to the ISS instead of Soyuz.

His rhetoric had appeared to calm down after becoming head of Roscosmos. Recently he has talked about a potential meeting with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine next month during the Soyuz MS-10 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and at a conference with all the ISS partners in Moscow in November to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first ISS module.  NASA says no commitments have been made yet to either meeting.

Whether Rogozin’s insinuation that someone aboard the ISS may have drilled a hole in the Soyuz will affect those plans is unclear.

Roscosmos has named a commission to investigate the incident.  A NASA spokeswoman told today that “NASA will support the commission’s work as appropriate.”

The ISS is a collaboration among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 European countries working through ESA.  So far the program has not been affected by the changing geopolitical climate following Russia’s actions in Ukraine and apparent interference with U.S. elections.

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