The small air leak detected on Wednesday afternoon on board the International Space Station (ISS) has been safely repaired, NASA announced yesterday, noting that the astronaut crew inhabiting the orbiting laboratory was never in any danger of depressurization or running out of air.
“Cabin pressure on the space station is holding steady after the crew conducted repair work on one of two Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the complex,” space agency officials posted to Twitter yesterday afternoon.
As reported by the Inquisitr, the ISS experienced a reduction in cabin pressure on August 29, discovered by flight controllers at Mission Control centers in both Houston and Moscow.
The source of the problem was traced back to a tiny tear in the shell of the Soyuz MS-09 capsule, which is docked with the Rassvet module on the Russian side of the space station.
Another Russian capsule, the Soyuz MS-08, is also parked at the ISS. The spacecraft docked with the Russian Poisk module on March 23, after ferrying NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, together with cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos, to the space station, Space reported at the time.
According to NASA, the six members of Expedition 56 spent Thursday morning investigating the issue and uncovered that the small drop in air pressure had been produced by a minuscule hole in the upper section of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.
The minute tear, measuring about two millimeters (0.08 inches) in diameter, was discovered in the capsule’s orbital compartment and was readily fixed by German astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, reports CNET.
“Yesterday showed again how valuable our emergency training is,” Gerst tweeted on August 31, mentioning that the ISS air leak was fixed “thanks to great cooperation between the crew and control centers on several continents.”
Yesterday showed again how valuable our emergency training is. We could locate and stop a small leak in our Soyuz, thanks to great cooperation between the crew and control centres on several continents. pic.twitter.com/Jo0MnIIprL
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) August 31, 2018
The first to take charge of the situation was Gerst himself, who did what anyone in his position would do and plugged the hole with his thumb.
“In effect, he literally touched space without a space suit,” the YouTube channel Techniques Spatiale wrote on Twitter.
Although the European Space Agency’s (ESA) astronaut was quick to react, NASA was fully aware that Gerst’s fix was not ideal and that a better solution needed to be found, notes the Telegraph.
“Right now, Alex has got his finger on that hole and I don’t think that’s the best remedy for it,” someone from NASA’s ground control team said during a live feed of the repair operations broadcast from the ISS.
Surely enough, a more stable solution came from Soyuz commander Prokopyev, who patched the crack in the capsule’s wall with a piece of gauze laced with epoxy and sealed it with Kapton tape — a type of high-strength duct tape commonly used in spacecraft, explains Popular Mechanics.
“When your spaceship suddenly starts leaking air, you fix the hole with duct tape and a gob of epoxy. Nice save, space station crew!” tweeted retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who served as commander of the ISS during Expedition 35 in 2013.
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) August 30, 2018
Prokopyev’s initiative is also a short-term fix. Although the patchwork seems to have been effective, since the cabin pressure was reported stable, the space station is currently searching for a long-term repair option.
“Flight controllers are working with the crew to develop a more comprehensive long-term repair,” NASA pointed out in a status update.
From the moment the small air leak was discovered and up to the moment it was contained, the astronauts were safe from harm.
“As the teams were discussing options, flight controllers in Moscow performed a partial increase of the station’s atmosphere using the ISS Progress 70 cargo ship’s oxygen supply,” explained NASA.
ARRIVAL! Traveling about 250 miles over the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, the unpiloted Russian Progress 70 cargo ship docked to the @Space_Station at 9:31pm ET. Watch: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/HfB51po4cM
— NASA (@NASA) July 10, 2018
The sources report that the damage to the Soyuz capsule was likely caused by a micrometeorite hitting the spacecraft and breaching through its wall.
“We’ve dodged a lot of bullets over the past 20 years. There’s a lot of space junk up there, a serious issue which needs to be addressed,” retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly wrote on Twitter.
As of today, things went back to normal and the six astronauts living on board the ISS have resumed their regular work schedule, NASA reported in a status update.