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Cosmonauts Turn Forensic Detectives to Solve Mystery of Space Station ‘Drill Hole’

It took almost eight hours for cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev to cut away a piece of a Soyuz module docked to the International Space Station during a spacewalk Tuesday.

The piece in question contained the mysterious drill hole identified in August as the source of an air leak and will be analyzed back on Earth.

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. While technicians have made errors in the past — such as accidentally drilling through spacecraft hulls — these have all been detected before launch.

In the case of the Soyuz drill hole, however, Rosmocosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in October that the investigation had ruled out manufacturing errors and was considering whether the hole was due to “deliberate interference in space.” Cue Sherlock Holmes in a space suit.

“You never know, you could have a disgruntled employee, like in all workplaces,” director of the University of Surrey Space Center, Guglielmo Aglietti told Wired UK in September.

Tuesday’s spacewalk was made even more complicated than usual by the fact that Soyuz is a transport module with no external railings to help cosmonauts perform external maintenance in orbit. Luckily, the cosmonauts discovered the hole was not a major threat to the space station’s integrity: it only took a little sealant and tape to repair.

Space station commander Andrew ‘Drew’ Feustel told ABC News, “I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing to do with this on orbit, without a doubt […] The only thing the crew did was react appropriately, follow our emergency procedures, eventually locate that leak and plugged the hole.”