Russian media is peddling an absurd ‘sabotage’ theory about the ISS hole

The tiny pressure leak in the International Space Station (ISS) may have been found and fixed, but it is still causing all sorts of problems.

After the leak was discovered on the Russian spacecraft attached to the ISS, it was determined that the 2 millimetre hole was made by a human hand.

A special commission was set up by the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos to investigate the cause of the rupture.

The CEO of Roscosmos said at the time that the hole may have been made on Earth or in space, but that he was not ruling out “deliberate spoilage”.

That was all the media needed.

In the past day alone, more and more Russian media outlets have been peddling an absurd new theory that appears to be little more than a rumour.

Despite no further official announcements from the special commission, these outlets have gone right ahead and posited that a NASA astronaut made the hole on purpose – so that a sick crew member could get home early.

The rumour comes from several “unnamed sources” who are supposedly working in the special commission. Allegedly, they told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that they’re looking into whether one of the three Americans on board is responsible.

The motive for such an extreme act? Apparently, NASA didn’t want to pay for an emergency departure from the ISS, as a replacement spacecraft could cost about US$85 million.

The evidence for space sabotage appears to lie solely on the appearance of the hole itself, which is surrounded by several drill marks. This was said to be a typical mistake for someone drilling in zero gravity.

Yet the difficulty of drilling in space is just one part of what makes this rumour so preposterous.

Pablo De Leon, an aerospace engineer at the University of North Dakota, explained the situation to Gizmodo:

“You need to push with enough force to penetrate both the fiberglass and the aluminum wall. It’s mechanically difficult to do. You have no way to secure yourself with one hand in that particular space to make the hole with the second hand”.

What’s more, American access to the Russian spacecraft is extremely limited, and the sources even acknowledge that themselves.

“Our Soyuz is next to the Rassvet (Dawn) module, right next to the hatch into the American segment of the station,” an anonymous source told Kommersant.

“Access to our ship is possible only with the permission of our commander, but we cannot exclude an unsanctioned access by the Americans.”

According to these unverified reports, the Russian special commission has asked NASA for medical records, detailing the health of the three Americans on board to somehow substantiate the whole plot.

Meanwhile, officials at the US space agency have refused to provide any public comments on the absurd rumours, choosing to stay out of the whole mess instead.

But what about the crew themselves? The American commander of the ISS, Drew Feustel, firmly dispelled the rumours of sabotage on Tuesday in a space-to-ground interview with ABC News.

“I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing do with this,” he said.

“I think it’s absolutely a shame and somewhat embarrassing that anybody is wasting any time talking about something that the crew was involved in.”

Russian officials and cosmonauts have also spoken out against the baseless gossip.

A day before Feustel’s interview, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopyev showed off the fixed hole in a video on Twitter, assuring those watching that: “everything is calm on board; we are living in peace and friendship as always.”

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Borisov, lambasted the media for their poor coverage of the issue.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to cast a shadow over our cosmonauts or American astronauts,” Borisov said, referring to the Kommersant‘s article, and stressing that the ISS team is united and has absolutely no political disagreements.

“Today, before the investigation is completed, pointing fingers and staging a witch hunt, to put it mildly, is short-sighted and dangerous,” he added.

On Sunday, making a joke out of the whole debacle, comedian John Oliver posited that it was not a human, but in fact one of the ten mice currently on board the ISS that drilled the hole.

At this point, the mouse theory is as good as any of them.

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