Russian cosmonauts take samples on 6th hour of spacewalk to crack mystery

Michele Stevens
December 14, 2018

The module, built by Russian company Energia, arrived at the International Space Station in June and has been the subject of a galactic detective mystery ever since.

"Someone messed up and then got scared and sealed up the hole", a source speculated, but then the sealant "dried up and fell off" when the Soyuz reached the ISS. The damage was apparently patched before the Soyuz actually launched into space, and it wasn't until it was attached to the space station that the makeshift repairs broke loose and started leaking. It took almost four hours for them to cross the approximately 100 feet (30 meters) to get there. To expose the external hull, Kononenko needed to cut away a 10-inch (25-centimeter) swatch of thermal insulation and debris shield, a slow and hard task.

And so on Tuesday the 2-millimeter hole led to a foot-long gash, as Kononenko sawed through the debris shield and insulation, looking for clues. The spacewalk originally expected to last for six hours kicked-off on Tuesday (December 11). "It is high time you went home", Mission Control urged.

NASA said the pieces of freed insulation posed no threat to the space station and would likely burn up in the atmosphere in a day or so.

The cause of the hole on the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, docked to the station, has not yet been established. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing - or in orbit.

The American commander who was in charge of the station at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.

Rogozin has since backpedaled his statement, blaming the news media for twisting his words.

The pair will take samples of any residue found on the hull of the capsule - which is used to transport astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the ISS - and take photos of the area for further investigation before placing a thermal blanket over it. The spacewalk findings could lead to better fix techniques in the future, officials said.

George Washington University space policy expert John Logsdon told NPR in September that there is "a kind of generalized concern about the decline of quality control in Russian space industry in recent years".

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