Two cosmonauts have investigated the mysterious hole in the docked Russian space capsule during a difficult outdoor mission at the International Space Station ISS.
With the spaceship Soyuz MS-09, the German astronaut Alexander Gerst and two other astronauts to return from space on 20 December.
The cause of the tiny hole can not be resolved until then, but Gerst brings important pieces of evidence to Earth. Problems with the re-entry of the actual Soyuz landing capsule into the Earth’s atmosphere are ruled out by the space agencies Roskosmos and Nasa. The capsule was „ready to come home,“ a Nasa spokesman said.
„For the time being you can only say one thing: Now all the samples have been taken to answer the main question,“ Roskosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin commented on Wednesday’s outdoor use. The mission was complicated and physically exhausting, with almost eight hours it took almost an hour and a half longer than planned. For the cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopjew, he meant a nerve test.
„Let’s not rush. Let’s go step by step so as not to mess anything up, „Kononenko said during the live broadcast. He cut an insulation cover and shield on the outer shell of the Soyuz to expose the small hole from the outside. It had caused a slight pressure drop on the station in August. For the cosmonauts it was challenging to work in bulky spacesuits with chunky gloves and in weightlessness at the only two millimeters large opening.
Nasa spoke of a „eureka moment“ when the hole was found after several hours. Kononenko and Prokopjew took pictures and videos of the leak. They also took material samples. These are to be examined on earth by Russian experts.
The ISS crew had sealed the leak with an adhesive-saturated special cloth after the incident on 30 August. The development of the borehole in Russia led to wild speculations. They were also fueled by Rogozin, who did not rule out that a member of the ISS crew could have drilled the hole. The Nasa explained after the external employment, before the exact clarification by the Russian specialists it was too early for each statement.
The samples should also clarify how well the seal has held from the inside. The leak is located on a hard to reach place of the so-called orbital module of the Soyuz. The astronauts use it for docking with the ISS and for boarding the station. The module is blasted off during the return flight and burns up empty in space.
At the landing capsule with the three astronauts the protective layer heats up to more than 1000 degrees Celsius when entering the atmosphere, before parachutes decelerate the fall before landing in Kazakhstan. Prokopjew and US astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor land on earth shortly before Christmas with Gerst.