We already knew that Russia was in the midst of an incredibly deep investigation into the origins of a strange hole that was found in a part of its Soyuz space vehicle earlier this year. The part of the ship that was damaged is no more — it was jettisoned during reentry and burned up — but samples taken from the damaged area are now being studied by Russian authorities as they try to explain how such a thing happened.
Sergei Prokopyev, one of the cosmonauts that rode back down to Earth last week aboard the Soyuz craft, told reporters at a new conference that the investigation is still ongoing. Samples gathered during a recent spacewalk should hopefully be the final piece to whatever puzzle officials are trying to piece together.
Russia’s handling of the investigation has the full support of NASA, but it’s worth noting that the country’s messaging hasn’t exactly been consistent in the days, weeks, and months following the discovery of the hole.
Initially thought to be damage sustained by a tiny space rock, once the hole was determined to be manmade a whole lot of finger pointing ensued. Russia’s Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin seeded the idea that the hole was created while the spacecraft was docked to the ISS, hinting that it might have been the work of someone on board.
Those theories were squashed rather quickly and, in the days after the crew found the leak, word out of Russia suggested a culprit may have already been found. Those unofficial threads never materialized into anything more concrete, and we’ve now been waiting months for Russia to announce what it has found during the lengthy investigation.
Russia’s early assertion that the hole was some kind of sabotage, perhaps during the manufacturing process, is an incredibly serious allegation. It’s unclear what punishment one or more individuals might face if the country determines that someone intentionally tried to harm its cosmonaut crew (not to mention NASA astronauts), but now that ship itself is back on solid ground we might learn more before long.