The saga of the hole in the International Space Station is taking some serious twists today, in the wake of yesterday’s declaration that it was drilled by someone, rather than the result of an unpredictable micrometeoroid strike. The Russian space agency Roscosmos has stated that it’s searching for the individual who is responsible for drilling the misplaced hole, and rumored leaks from inside the manufacturer, Energia, suggest that the culprit may already have been caught.
It would be nice to assume this is just an isolated incident, but that may not be the case. As Ars Technica points out, this entire ordeal might actually just be the latest in a pattern of coverups by Energia employees who make mistakes and then try to patch them up before anyone notices.
The hole in the space station was actually located in a Soyuz spacecraft which was docked at the time. The entire space station is supposed to be airtight, and it’s obviously very important that no leaks develop which could slowly exhaust the crew’s supply of breathable air in space. The spacecraft was built by Energia, and some new information suggests that quality control might not be the top priority amongst the company’s staff.
A former employee of Energia told Russian news outlet Gazeta.ru that this isn’t the first time someone had tried to cover up a hole in a piece of hardware headed for space. “I have conducted investigations of all kinds of spacecraft, and after landing, we discovered a hole drilled completely through the hull of a re-entry module,” Viktor Minenko told reporters. “But the technician didn’t report the defect to anyone but sealed up the hole with epoxy. We found the person, and after a commotion he was terminated.”
A hole… in a re-entry module… that was carrying passengers. I probably don’t need to say this, but that’s an absolutely insane mistake to be so cavalier about. Spacecraft that are built to endure the intense friction of reentry into Earth’s atmosphere are subjected to incredible stresses, and a hole “completely through the hull” is obviously a very dangerous mistake to cover up.
For the time being, the Russians haven’t officially declared that they’ve caught the person responsible for this latest manufacturing error. NASA and U.S. officials are letting the country handle things on its own, and have deferred questions to Roscosmos officials instead of commenting further.