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International Space Station air leak: Russia looking into sabotage



international space station iss nasa
The International Space
Station (ISS).


  • Last week, a leak was found and fixed in a Russian part
    of the
    International Space Station
  • NASA said it did not pose any immediate danger to the
    six-person crew.
  • Some experts suspected that a micrometeorite strike
    created the 2-millimeter-wide hole.
  • But the head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said the hole was caused
    by a mistake — or deliberate sabotage — with a drill.
  • Roscosmos has launched an investigatory commission, and
    NASA said it “will support the
    commission’s work.”

NASA on Wednesday announced that the International Space Station
(ISS) had sprang a “minute
pressure leak
” in orbit some 250 miles above Earth.

The Expedition 56 crew — comprised
of three
NASA astronauts
, one European astronaut, and two Russian
cosmonauts — quickly found a 2-millimeter hole responsible for
the leak.

By the end of Thursday, the crew temporarily plugged the
flea-size hole with a thumb, then covered it with
tape, and finally made a permanent fix to the $150 billion space
station with a bit of epoxy-resin glue.

NASA said “the crew was never in
any danger” during the leak and repair.

But the story took a bizarre turn on Monday when Dmitriy Rogozin,
the head of Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, alluded to possible
sabotage — maybe even in space.

alexander gerst european german astronaut thumbs up esa nasa
astronaut Alexander Gerst gives a thumbs-up before a spacewalk
outside the International Space Station.


“We are checking the Earth-bound version [of events], but there
is another version which we are not ignoring: intentional action
in space,” Rogozin said, according to a translated version of an article published by RIA Novosti, a Russian
state-operated media outlet. “There are traces made [by] several
attempts to drill a hole.”

A tiny, high-speed rock or piece of space trash, sometimes called
a micrometeorite, was the leading suspect for the cause of the
hole and leak.

But Rogozin reportedly said that an investigatory commission had
ruled out a micrometeorite strike and narrowed the cause down to
“a technological mistake of a technician” since “it is clear that
the damage was caused from inside the spacecraft.”

“We can see the mark where the drill bit slid along the surface
of the hull,” Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. “But where
did it happen? On Earth or in orbit?”

The only “technicians” in space are astronauts and cosmonauts who
build, work in, and service the space station.

NASA’s response to claims of possible sabotage in space

NASA wrote about the discovery of the leak, its temporary fix,
and the final repair in three blog posts published last week.

But in response to the what Rogozin reportedly said on Monday,
the US space agency has kept quiet. Several NASA officials
contacted by Business Insider declined to answer additional
questions or comment directly on the accusations.

“Roscosmos has convened a State Commission to conduct further
analysis of the possible cause of the leak. Please contact them
for details,” two officials responded by email.

However, NASA said it “will support the commission’s work as
appropriate,” referring to the investigation by Roscosmos.

Roscosmos did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s
questions about the incident or its investigation.

Why the leak may have sprang now

international space station layout russian roscosmos soyuz ms 09 spacecraft nasa iss_08 22 18
International Space Station’s configuration as of August 22,


NASA said the hole in the space station was found “in the orbital
compartment, or upper section, of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft
attached to the Rassvet module of the Russian segment of the
station.” That’s shown in the center-bottom of the diagram above.

The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft
launched toward the ISS on June 8
carrying cosmonaut Sergey
Prokopyev, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, and NASA astronaut
Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor. Importantly, NASA says the hole was
not part of the spaceship that crew members will use to
eventually return to Earth.

“We cannot say exactly what happened,” Rogozin reportedly said,
adding that Roscosmos’ investigatory commission would ultimately
find the cause of the leak and “the full name of who is at

While the investigation continues, spaceflight experts and
aficionados are entertaining their own guesses.

Chris Bergin, the managing editor of,
said on Twitter that the “the
nearest thing” to a drill that astronauts or cosmonauts might use
during an extravehicular activity (also called an EVA or
spacewalk) is an electric screwdriver called a pistol grip tool.

“I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a Russian EVA even
use such a thing,” Bergin said. “All my money is on some ground
tech messing up and trying to cover up his/her mistake.”

In other words, the part that launched in June may have been
accidentally dinged up by one of its builders, then covered up
with something like paint — only to spring a leak months later.

Bergin added: “I think we’re all
missing something, including Roscosmos. This story is officially

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