A Russian cosmonaut who got a close-up view of a mysterious hole in a Soyuz capsule docked to the International Space Station said Monday that the opening was drilled from inside the spacecraft and Russian law enforcement agencies are investigating what caused it.
Sergei Prokopyev said investigators were looking at samples he and crewmate Oleg Kononenko collected during a Dec. 12 spacewalk. Prokopyev and two other crew members returned to Earth last week after more than six months in orbit aboard the station.
Flight controllers in Houston and Moscow first noted a small drop in the station’s internal air pressure on Aug. 29. The next day, the lab’s crew traced the leak to the upper compartment in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that carried three crew members to the complex in June.
The crew plugged the hole with epoxy and gauze. Photographs clearly showed multiple scars caused by a drill bit and one small hole that was plugged by the crew.
Prokopyev said at a news conference the hole started from the capsule’s interior and “it’s up to the investigative organs to judge when that hole was made.”
The astronauts’ quick identification and repair of the hole demonstrated “the crew was ready for any developments,” he said.
The hole didn’t pose a danger to Prokopyev and crewmates Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency during their return because the section of the capsule it appeared in was jettisoned before the fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Russian space agency Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in September the hole could have been drilled when the capsule was manufactured or in orbit. Rogozin stopped short of blaming crew members, but the statement caused some friction between Roscosmos and NASA.
Rogozin has since back-pedaled from the statement, blaming the news media for twisting his words.
Prokopyev scoffed at the idea the hole could have been drilled by an astronaut, saying, “You shouldn’t think so badly of our crew.”