A story emerged this week involving a surprising leak, a Russian investigation, and suggestions of sabotage, but it wasn’t set in Washington.
The story unfolded about 250 miles above Earth, where a mysterious hole was discovered leaking pressurized air out of a capsule on the International Space Station. Officials said the people on board the station—three Americans, two Russians, and one German—were never in any danger, and the leak has since been patched up. But the mystery of how it got there in the first place remains.
On August 30, in the middle of the night, flight controllers on Earth noticed that the air pressure on the ISS had dropped slightly. The change suggested there was a leak somewhere on the station. NASA didn’t wake up its own astronauts after the detection because the pressure change was too small to pose a danger to the astronauts, the agency said. Everyone was safely tucked into sleeping bags tightly secured to the wall, the best approximation of a bed in an environment where floating away without knowing it is a real problem. When they woke up, all six were instructed to scour the station for the source.
The astronauts eventually traced the leak to a two-millimeter hole in the hull of a Soyuz capsule, a type of Russian spacecraft that delivers people to and from the ISS. Since the American Space Shuttle ended in 2011, Russia offers the only transportation option to the station. The capsule had arrived in June, carrying a Russian cosmonaut, an American astronaut, and an astronaut from the European Space Agency. The hole was found on a part of the Soyuz that doesn’t return to Earth.*