NASA has hit back at Russian claims a US astronaut drilled a hole in the International Space Station in 2018 to force an early return to Earth due to a psychological crisis.
According to a report in TASS, the Russian state news agency, Roscosmos insiders claim there were multiple holes drilled by someone unfamiliar with the module design and without proper support to ensure accurate drilling in low gravity.
They claim NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor made the hole after a blood clot developed in her jugular vein that she had to treat herself, leading to an ‘acute psychological crisis’.
NASA doesn’t comment on medical matters but disputed the claim, describing the astronaut as extremely well respected and as making many invaluable contributions.
August 2018 saw astronauts rush to fix a hole which had appeared in the outer wall of the Soyuz capsule on the orbiting laboratory. Its origins were, and still are, a mystery, despite rife speculation and accusations from all sides.
It is thought the latest report may be Roscosmos deflecting accusations from NASA over the arrival of the Russian Science module sending the ISS in a spin in July.
August 2018 saw astronauts rush to fix a hole (pictured) which had appeared in the outer wall of the Soyuz capsule on the orbiting laboratory. Its origins were, and still are, a mystery despite rife speculation.
They claim Aunon-Chancellor made the hole after a blood clot developed in her jugular vein that she had to treat herself, leading to an ‘acute psychological crisis’
THE $100 BILLION ISS SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH
The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.
Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.
ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.
The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.
Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.
In response to the most recent allegations, said to come from Roscosmos, Bill Nelson, head of NASA posted on Twitter: ‘I fully support Serena.’
The Russian space agency conducted an investigation into the hole in 2019 and compiled a dossier on the incident, but reports claim it will not disclose its findings.
The leak, a circular hole in the hull of the Russian Soyuz capsule as it joined the ISS, was the subject of headlines and speculation for months.
Claims of the cause have included a botched repair job by an engineer on Earth who drilled through the side of the spacecraft, issues in manufacturing and sabotage.
The hole in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station was spotted on August 30, 2018, three months after it first docked, after crew spotted a decrease in air pressure, causing astronauts to rush to find the cause.
Just days prior to their return to Earth, the cosmonauts endured a gruelling spacewalk that lasted almost eight hours to investigate the hole, using knives and shears to carve into the side of the space station itself.
The crew discovered a 2-millimetre (0.08 inches) hole which caused the leak and plugged it with epoxy and gauze.
NASA claimed the astronauts on board were never in danger of suffocation due to the ‘lifeboat’ spacecraft attached to the station to provide a return to Earth.
Later, images and further investigation revealed the hole had been made from the inside, ruling out space debris as the cause.
Sergey Prokopyev and two other astronauts, Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, were on board when it as detected.
The allegation against Aunon-Chancellor was made in an article published by TASS claiming to ‘debunk’ 12 things America claims about the Russian space agency.
They report it would not have been possible for the damage to happen on Earth as the ship would never pass vacuum chamber tests, essential to be flight ready.
‘If there were any holes in it, then the pressure in this ship would immediately drop and it would not pass the appropriate tests. Thus, Roscosmos immediately ruled out the version of damage to Soyuz-MS-09 on Earth,’ TASS reported.
It then goes on to discuss the mental health of Aunon-Chancellor, suggesting she took drastic action to ‘speed up her return to Earth’.
A tiny hole, only 2mm wide (pictured), was found to be responsible for the loss of valuable cabin pressure which was first detected on August 30, 2018
Mr Prokopyev and Mr Kononenko had to use a pair of telescoping booms to reach the Soyuz and said it took nearly four hours for them to cross the approximately 100 feet to get to the capsule (pictured)
It lists the reasons behind the defamatory claim, suggesting the video camera at the junction of the Russian and American segments ‘mysteriously’ stopped working at the time and that the US astronauts refused to pass a polygraph.
Roscosmos insiders told TASS that the Russian astronauts took a polygraph and added the agency wasn’t allowed to examine the tools and drills on the ISS for presence of the remains of metal shavings.
It went on to add that of the eight holes only one went all the way through, the rest appeared to just scuff the walls.
It is thought the latest report may be Roscosmos deflecting accusations from NASA over the arrival of the Russian Science module sending the ISS in a spin in July
It said that it ‘speaks of drilling precisely in zero gravity conditions without the necessary support,’ adding one hole was in the transverse rib of the ship’s hull, obviously drilled by someone who hadn’t been trained on the Soyuz spacecraft.
The statement sent out by NASA in response to the claims was relatively void of detail and didn’t specifically exonorate Aunon-Chancellor, writing: ‘To protect their privacy, the agency will not discuss medical information regarding crew members.’
Since then agency officials have tweeted their support for the astronaut.
Kathy Lueders from NASA and responsible for the human spaceflight program said Serana was an ‘extremely well-respected crew member who has made invaluable contributions. I did not find this accusation credible.’
WHAT COULD HAVE CAUSED A HOLE IN THE ISS?
Theory one – it was caused by a small meteorite
A tiny hole appeared in a Russian space capsule locked to the ISS on 30th August.
The ‘micro fracture’ believed to be around 2mm wide in the $150 billion (£115 billion) space station was discovered after astronauts noticed a drop in pressure.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst reportedly put his finger over the hole before crew patched it with tape.
The hole was confirmed repaired by Friday (31 August) after cabin pressure returned to normal.
It was initially believed to have been caused by a small meteorite and astronauts used tape to seal the leak after it caused a minor loss of pressure.
Theory two – it was made deliberately while in orbit
However, as the investigation went on it began to look like the hole was made from someone inside as opposed to outside, either back on Earth or in space, the Russian space agency claimed.
Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in September that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing or while in orbit with a ‘wavering hand’.
He didn’t say if he suspected any of the US crew, but the statement has caused some bewilderment.
Sources suggest the question of how to fix the hole may have strained relations between Moscow and Houston.
Rogozin has since reneged on his statement blaming the media for twisting his words and said that he ‘never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts’.
Theory three – it was caused by a worker at Energia
A leading theory from an unnamed source at Energia said the hole was made on the ground – potentially caused by ‘deliberate interference’ – with suggestions the person responsible may have already been identified.
Another anonymous source said the hole was drilled by a worker who hid their mistake with a seal instead of reporting it.
An unnamed source at Energia told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that ‘[t]he hole was made on the ground’.
According to the source, ‘[t]he person responsible for the act of negligence has been identified’.
Another anonymous source said the hole was not made intentionally but by a worker who hid their mistake with a seal instead of reporting it.
The patchwork repair lasted the trip up to the ISS but after three weeks in orbit gradually peeled away.