Russia launched checks Tuesday after its space chief said an air leak on the International Space Station last week could have been deliberate sabotage.
Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin said the hole detected Thursday in a Russian space craft docked at the orbiting station was caused by a drill and could have been done deliberately, either back on Earth or by astronauts in space.
Astronauts used tape to seal the leak after it caused a small loss of pressure that was not life-threatening.
“There were several attempts at drilling,” Rogozin said late Monday in televised comments.
He added that the drill appeared to have been held by a “wavering hand.”
“What is this: a production defect or some premeditated actions?” he asked.
“We are checking the Earth version. But there is another version that we do not rule out: deliberate interference in space.”
A commission will seek to identify the culprit by name, Rogozin said, calling this a “matter of honour” for Russia’s Energiya space manufacturing company that made the Soyuz.
‘Not a meteorite’
Previously Rogozin had said the hole in the side of the Soyuz ship used to ferry astronauts was most likely caused from outside by a tiny meteorite.
“We have already ruled out the meteorite version,” Rogozin said late Monday.
A Russian MP who is a former cosmonaut suggested that a psychologically disturbed astronaut could have done it to force an early return home.
“We’re all human, and anyone might want to go home, but this method is really low,” Maxim Surayev of President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, told RIA Novosti state news agency,
“If a cosmonaut pulled this strange stunt—and that can’t ruled out— it’s really bad,” said Surayev, who spent two stints on the ISS.
“I wish to God that this is a production defect, although that’s very sad, too—there’s been nothing like this in the history of Soyuz ships.”
The hole is in a section of the Soyuz ship that will not be used to carry astronauts back to Earth.
A space industry source told TASS state news agency that the spacecraft could have been damaged during testing at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after passing initial checks and the mistake was then hastily covered up.
“Someone messed up and then got scared and sealed up the hole,” the source speculated, but then the sealant “dried up and fell off” when the Soyuz reached the ISS.
Energiya will carry out checks for possible defects on all Soyuz ships and Progress unmanned ships used for cargo at its production site outside Moscow and at Baikonur cosmodrome, RIA Novosti reported Tuesday, citing a space industry source.
The ISS is one of the few areas of Russia-US cooperation that remains unaffected by the slump in relations between the countries and Washington’s sanctions.
Russia’s rockets used for launching spacecraft and satellites have suffered engine problems.
Currently on the ISS are two cosmonauts from Russia and three NASA astronauts as well as one German astronaut from the European Space Agency.
In other space news, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos outlined his plan to colonize the moon with his rocket company Blue Origin in partnership with NASA by the year 2023.
The multi-billionaire who recently unseated Bill Gates as the richest man on the planet has set his eyes firmly on the moon.
And AC Charania, business development director for Blue Origin, revealed the rocket company aims to establish a base on the moon within the next five years.
Mr Charania said the company is “actively working” towards a lunar landing mission dubbed Blue Moon.
He said: “Blue Moon is on our roadmap and because of our scale, because of what we see from the government, we brought it a little bit forward in time.”
The bold venture will see the company partner with US space agency NASA, reports the Express.
Earlier last year in May, Mr Bezos outlined his plans to conquer the moon during a live talk at the Seattle Museum of Flight.
The Amazon boss said the time has come for humans to return to the moon but with the goal of staying.
Mr Bezos suggested setting up lunar colonies on the Moon’s poles, where direct sunlight does not reach certain ice-filled craters.
He said: “We have proposed to NASA this idea of returning to the moon and we would like to set up a cargo service for that.
“We call the program Blue Moon and we have an architecture and some technologies that will allow us to soft-land large amounts of mass on the surface of the moon which could be necessary if you wanted to build a permanent settlement there.
“I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon and it’s time to go back to the moon but this time to stay.
“There you would want to preposition a whole bunch of equipment and supplies before the humans show up and some of those things might need to be assembled on the surface of the moon and that’s the kind of thing that could be done by advanced robotics with machine learning systems on board.”
In February 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration proposed increased resources to NASA’s 2018 budget to expand the space agency’s moon exploring options.
NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot revealed the US Government was interested in seeing NASA focus on more Moon-based research and mission.
Mr Lightfoot said: “This proposal provides a renewed focus to our human spaceflight activities and expands our commercial and international partnerships.”
But Blue Origin is not the only private rocket manufacturer chasing NASA to the moon.
US-based SpaceX, founded by South African billionaire Elon Musk, is looking to send people on trips around the moon in the near future.
Mr Musk said in February 2017: “We’ve been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the moon, from some private individuals. And they’re very serious about it.
“They’ve not given us permission to release their names yet. But they have placed a significant deposit.”
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 4th, 2018