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NASA issues statement walking back some comments by Russian officials on ISS leak

Published Oct 3rd, 2018 5:34PM EDT

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The story of the strange hole in a Russian vehicle attached to the International Space Station continues to get stranger. Just yesterday comments from the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, began to make the rounds, Rogozin stating that an investigation has ruled the hole was intentional and not a result of an accident or defect. Today, NASA has a slightly different angle that it wants to share.

In a new statement, NASA does its best to walk back some of the comments issued by its Russian counterpart, noting that it’s not immediately jumping to the conclusion that the hole was actually sabotage at all.

This is turning into a real soap opera.

NASA’s full statement reads as follows:

On Aug. 29, 2018 a small hole was discovered on the International Space Station. This resulted in a pressure leak. The hole has been identified and fixed by space station crew.

Russian media recently reported that General Director Rogozin said the hole was not a manufacturing defect. Ruling out a manufacturing defect indicates that this is an isolated issue which does not categorically affect future production.

This conclusion does not necessarily mean the hole was created intentionally or with mal-intent. NASA and Roscosmos are both investigating the incident to determine the cause. The International Space Station Program is tentatively planning a spacewalk in November to gather more information.

On October 11, American Astronaut Nick Hague and Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will launch to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Administrator Bridenstine is scheduled to attend the launch and plans to meet with Mr. Rogozin. This will be their first in-person meeting. They had a telephone call on September 12 during which they discussed the International Space Station leak.

There’s a lot to digest here but there are a couple of key things to note. First off, NASA’s assertion that the Roscosmos ruling out an accidental manufacturing defect automatically means it was a deliberate act. NASA has taken an “innocent until proven guilty” position related to the possibility of someone in manufacturing process (in Russia) drilling the hole with the intention of causing trouble. But if it wasn’t an accident or a defect, then what other possibility remains, besides it being an intentional act?

The second important part of this statement is that NASA is standing by Russia’s flight hardware and has no intention of delaying or cancelling its plans to send American astronauts to the ISS via Russian missions. NASA’s Nick Hague will be flying to the International Space Station along with Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin in just a handful of days, and NASA clearly wanted to reassure everyone that there has been no hiccups in that roadmap.

Russia still has the second half of its investigation to complete, at which point we might finally know where and when the hole was created, but for now we’ll have to just watch NASA and Roscosmos continue this awkward dance.