Last week, astronauts found a two-millimeter hole in the fabric of a Russian Soyuz MS-09 module docked at the International Space Station (ISS). The hole was allowing oxygen to escape, and pressure dropped slightly before the hole was repaired with tape and sealant. At the time, the astronauts thought a “micrometeorite” strike might have been to blame.
Now, however, a more sinister explanation has emerged. According to the head of Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, the hole had been drilled.
It is not clear whether the drilling was deliberate or accidental, or whether it took place on Earth or in orbit. But, Dmitry Rogozin reportedly said, whoever did it had a “wavering hand” and there had been several attempts at drilling.
As a result, Rogozin said, sabotage cannot be ruled out.
The Russians are overseeing the investigation—they built the module, after all—and, if they can identify the culprit, they say they will publicize their name.
The module was built by Russian company Energia, and a former employee told Russian media that technicians there have made similar mistakes in the past. On one occasion, a technician accidentally drilled through the hull of a re-entry module and tried to cover it up by sealing the hole with epoxy—he was found out, though, and sacked.
The module flew to the ISS in June, carrying three cosmonauts: Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev, Germany’s Alexander Gerst, and the U.S.’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor. There should be no problem using the Soyuz capsule to get home.
All trips to the ISS and back are made using Russian craft these days, as has been the case since 2011 when NASA stopped making such missions.