NASA is trying to squash conspiracy theories about the space station leak

  14 September 2018    Read: 1014
NASA is trying to squash conspiracy theories about the space station leak

Wild theories of sabotage still persist two weeks after a mysterious pressure leak occurred on the International Space Station, and the gossip has gotten so nonsensical that both NASA and Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, are now trying to quell the rumors.

In a joint statement released today, NASA and Roscosmos claim that the US space agency is working closely with Russia to figure out the cause of the leak. The statement also notes that no information will be released until the Russian-led investigation is over, despite rampant speculation in the Russian press that the leak was possibly caused by one of NASA’s astronauts in space.

During a teleconference yesterday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and Roscosmos general director Dmitry Rogozin “affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation,” according to the statement. “They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success.”

NASA and Roscosmos first detected a drop in the space station’s pressure around 7PM ET on Wednesday, August 29th, suspecting that there was a leak of some kind on the ISS. The air was escaping at such a slow rate, though, that flight controllers opted not to wake the crew. The next day, the six astronauts on board the ISS traced the leak to a small hole inside one of the two Russian Soyuz capsules docked to the space station — the vehicles used to bring crew to and from Earth. This particular Soyuz has been at the ISS since June 8th, and the hole was found in one of the modules that is jettisoned before the Soyuz enters Earth’s atmosphere during its descent. So the piece is not necessary for the entire trip back to the ground.

The hole was successfully patched up on Thursday, August 30th, but the mystery over the origin of the hole has remained. The ideas of in-space sabotage were first suggested by Roscosmos, which formed a state commission to get to the bottom of the leak. After dismissing the theory of a micrometeoroid impact, Rogozin said it looked as if the hole had been made by a drill. (NASA allegedly published and then removed pictures of the hole, which did look as if it had been made by a drill of some kind.) Rogozin noted that Roscosmos would “find out whether it was an accidental defect or a deliberate spoilage and where it was done — either on Earth or in space,” according to a report in TASS.

Russia has a noted history of blaming spacecraft failures on possible sabotage, so this kind of behavior isn’t new. However, the gossip over the leak seems to have only grown in the last couple of weeks. As first reported by Ars Technica, a story published in Russia’sKommersant cited anonymous sources from Roscosmos, who claimed that investigators were looking into the possibility that the hole was caused by a NASA astronaut. The theory was that one of the three American crew members had gotten sick, so one of the astronauts caused the leak in order to force a quick evacuation to Earth.

In fact, the rumors have gotten so bad that ISS commander Drew Feustel actually had to flat-out deny that anyone on board the station was involved in some way. “I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing to do with this on orbit, without a doubt, and I think it’s actually a shame and somewhat embarrassing that anybody is wasting any time talking about something that the crew was involved in,” Feustel said in an interview from space with ABC News, as reported by CBS.

Despite having first floated the theory of sabotage, Rogozin has taken to criticizing journalists for speculating about the cause of the leak. “The recent gossip and rumors circulating about the incident at the ISS hinder the work of Roscosmos experts and are designed to subvert the friendly relations among the crew members of the space station,” Rogozin said on Facebook, according to a TASS report. “All statements citing unnamed sources are inadmissible until Roscosmos special commission concludes its work,” he added.

Meanwhile, there is another, more plausible theory, that is still on the table: that the hole was made by a worker on the ground, who then hastily patched it up before the Soyuz launched on June 6th. Then somehow the patch was removed, exposing the hole. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said that faulty work on Earth has not been ruled out, TASS reports.

In a previous statement on September 5th, Roscosmos said that it plans to finish its investigation this month. “All conclusions and decisions will be announced after the commission’s work is completed,” according to the corporation.


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