There’s an unusual bit of foreign intrigue unfolding miles above earth. The International Space Station had been, until now, a neutral zone of sorts, free from the political mechanization that are plaguing the current relations between the United States and Russia. But not any more. Now, the space station may be the scene of sabotage.
The controversy surrounds an air leak. A small hole was found earlier in the week. The hole resulted in a minor loss of pressure, but was fixed with tape. Now the Russians believe the hole is no accident, but was put there intentionally.
Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin is unsure about when the hole was made. It could have happened in space, or while the station was on the ground.
“There were several attempts at drilling,” Rogozin told reporters. The hole wasn’t bored confidently, either, but was made by what Rogozin describes as a “wavering hand.”
“What is this: a production defect or some premeditated actions?” he asked. “We are checking the Earth version. But there is another version that we do not rule out: deliberate interference in space.”
Before Monday’s announcement, the best guess was that the hole was caused by a small meteorite. “We have already ruled out the meteorite version,” Rogozin confirmed.
The hole, roughly 2mm in diameter, is not in a portion of the station that will transport humans back to Earth, so the danger is poses is minimal.
“The rate of the leak was slowed… through the temporary application of Kapton tape at the leak site,” said NASA, according to a report by Sky News.
Kapton tape is highly heat resistant, creating a short-term solution until a more permanent fix could be used to handle the hole.
NASA also asserted that the crew, which includes three Americans, two Russians, and one German astronaut, is “in no danger.”
Rogozin’s latest comments point to a matter of pride and honor, and his agency is determined to find the culprit.
“Overnight and in the morning there was an abnormal situation,” Rogozin had originally said, “a pressure drop, an oxygen leak at the station.”
“A microfracture was found, most likely it is damage from the outside. The design engineers believe it is the result of a micrometeorite.”
That optimistic tone is now gone. If this is a deliberate act of sabotage, there may be others.
“Flight controllers are working with the crew to develop a more comprehensive long-term repair,” NASA added.
“Once the patching is complete, additional leak checks will be performed. All station systems are stable, and the crew is in no danger.”
The hole was found in one of two Soyuz capsules docked at the ISS.
The @Space_Station crew is conducting troubleshooting and repair work today after the discovery of a tiny leak last night traced to the Russian segment of the orbital complex. All systems are stable and the crew is in no danger. Details: https://t.co/vdbN2L02Zf pic.twitter.com/NIHoSGnHk7
— NASA (@NASA) August 30, 2018
“Flight controllers at their respective Mission Control centers in Houston and Moscow worked together with the crew to effect a repair option in which Soyuz commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos used epoxy on a gauze wipe to plug the hole identified as the leak source,” NASA wrote.
“Flight controllers in Houston are continuing to monitor the station’s cabin pressure in the wake of the repair,” they continued. “All station systems are stable, and the crew is planning to return to its regular schedule of work on Friday.”
The atmosphere of trust that once defined the station’s mission is now at risk.