Cosmonauts spacewalk to a ‘mystery hole’

Take samples of a cavity in Soyuz
Using knives and shears, a pair of Russian spacewalkers on Tuesday cut samples of material around a mysterious hole in a Soyuz spacecraft docked on the International Space Station that a Moscow official suggested could have been deliberate sabotage. Roscosmos space agency said the aim was to discover whether the “small but dangerous” hole had been made on Earth or in space. The 2 mm cavity on the Soyuz spaceship docked at the ISS caused an air leak detected in August, two months after the craft’s last voyage.
Until Tuesday, astronauts had only been able to examine the hole from inside the spacecraft. During the seven hour, 45 minute spacewalk, veteran cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev struggled, but eventually succeeded, in cutting away the insulation covering the hole and taking out a sample to analyse. What made it especially hard is that the Soyuz spacecraft, unlike the ISS, was not designed to be repaired in spacewalks and has no outside railings for astronauts to hold onto. “There’s nothing, that’s the problem,” Mr. Kononenko said ahead of the outing. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in October that an investigation had ruled out a manufacturing error. He had said earlier that Russia did not exclude “deliberate interference in space.” Russian media reported the investigation was probing the possibility U.S. astronauts deliberately drilled the hole to get a sick colleague sent back home. Russian officials later denied those reports. The discovery of the hole was followed in October by the failure of a manned Soyuz launch, although the Russian and U.S. astronauts returned safely to Earth. The samples will be sent to Earth to “get at the truth” of the cavity’s origins, the space agency said. The cosmonauts also took photographs and filmed video, before putting new insulation over the area. The spacewalk was the fourth for Mr. Kononenko and the second for Mr. Prokopyev.

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