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Sci-Tech

ISS leak may be a drill hole

The International Space Station sprang a leak, but what caused it is still in question.

NASA removed these before and after images of the ISS hole from a space-to-ground video update.

NASA

The hole in the International Space Station has turned into a whodunit mystery. The answer may be a human with a drill back on Earth.

NASA noticed a small, slow pressure leak in the space station last week. The astronauts tracked it down to a tiny hole in a Russian Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft connected to the ISS. The crew repaired the hole after first temporarily blocking it with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst's thumb. 

The hole was not a serious danger to the crew, but we've all been wondering how it got there. NASA reported that Russian space agency Roscosmos has convened a commission to analyze the cause. 

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly speculated on Twitter that it could be due to a "micrometeoroid" impact. "We've dodged a lot of bullets over the past 20 years. There's a lot of space junk up there, a serious issue which needs to be addressed," he tweeted late last week.

Russian state news agency TASS shared developments on Monday from Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin, who said the space agency has considered theories ranging from a meteorite impact to a "technological error by a specialist."

This is where the drill comes in. 

"It was done by a human hand. There are traces of a drill sliding along the surface," Rogozin told TASS. 

TASS later reported Monday that the hole could have been caused accidentally by a worker on Earth. The news agency cited a source in the space rocket industry who said that a worker may have patched the hole with glue and that the patch later failed in orbit. The spacecraft arrived at the ISS in June.

To add to the intrigue, space news site NASASpaceFlight.com noticed images of the hole in a NASA Space to Ground video update, which was taken down and later re-released without the photos. But NASA followers had already saved the original video

"Due to a technical issue, some unreleased images made their way into a draft space-to-ground video inadvertently published on Friday, Aug. 31," NASA public affairs officer Kathryn Hambleton said. "NASA recognized the error quickly, and took steps to re-edit the video and reposted an updated version."

NASA seems willing to leave the investigation of the leak's cause to Roscosmos. "NASA said it will support the commission's work as appropriate," Hambleton said.

While the mystery may not be solved for certain, at least the crew is safe. "All station systems are stable, and the crew is in no danger as the work to develop a long-term repair continues," NASA said in an ISS update last week. 

Gerst praised his crewmates and their emergency training. "We could locate and stop a small leak in our Soyuz, thanks to great cooperation between the crew and control centres on several continents," he tweeted.

First published Sept. 4, 8:54 a.m. PT. 
Update, 12:20 p.m. PT: Adds comment from NASA public affairs office Kathryn Hambleton. 

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