Russian Cosmonauts Investigate Mysterious Hole In ISS During Six-Hour Space Walk

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko conducts a spacewalk outside the International Space Station Space in this still image captured from NASA video in space

Prokopyev and Kononenko had to use a pair of telescoping booms to reach the Soyuz. The orbital compartment on which they worked is purposely jettisoned and destroyed during the re-entry of the Soyuz descent module into Earth's atmosphere. The leak created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

The hole, which was patched from the inside the station, was exposed and inspected by Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev, both Expedition 57 flight engineers, during a December 11, 2018 spacewalk. It took almost four hours for them to cross the approximately 100 feet (30 meters) to get there. Kononenko has now logged a total of 26 hours and 12 minutes working in the vacuum of space, including a 2008 spacewalk when he performed similar work to what he did on today, cutting into the insulation covering the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft to remove a pyrotechnic device. The astronauts collected samples of the black epoxy sealant protruding from the hole, just one-tenth of an inch (2 millimeters) across. As they cut into the spacecraft, small fragments of the material floated away and formed a cloud of debris.

"It was very hard. but we were able to get it done", one of the spacewalkers said.

The 2mm cavity on the Soyuz spaceship docked at the ISS caused an air leak detected in August, two months after the craft's last voyage.

Kononenko, who arrived at the station earlier this month with NASA astronaut Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, said in a pre-flight interview that the spacewalk would be strenuous.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in October that an investigation had ruled out a manufacturing error. The space station's commander at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.

Rogozin later backpedaled on his statement. Samples will be taken to be sent back to Earth. The spacewalk findings could lead to better fix techniques in the future, officials said. It ferried them up in June.

George Washington University space policy expert John Logsdon told NPR in September that there is "a kind of generalized concern about the decline of quality control in Russian space industry in recent years".

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