After a thorough investigation which included consultation with NASA, Russia is now pointing the finger to deliberate sabotage as causing a hole that created a dangerous oxygen leak on the International Space Station (ISS).
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roskosmos, said on Monday that an official investigative report had confirmed their prior theory: "It concluded that a manufacturing defect had been ruled out which is important to establish the truth," he said.
Damage to the craft first uncovered in late August while it was anchored to the International Space Station (ISS) alarmed engineers and raised suspicion of foul play — a possibility at first thought remote — but an air leak was initially thought to be the result of a micrometeorite colliding with the vessel.
Concerning the drill hole, the Russian space agency chief continued, "Where it was made will be established by a second commission, which is at work now." The agency is now actively seeking the person or persons responsible for drilling the hole.
A report of the new findings in Yahoo news summarizes of prior suggestions that it was a mere accident or assembly defect:
Now it appears that isn’t the case, and that the hole was created specifically to cause problems for the crew. Who created it remains to be seen, but the Russian space agency is clearly taking this all incredibly seriously and whoever was responsible will likely face some incredibly stiff punishment.
An initial inquiry from early September, related in Russian media, had described the possibility of a "reckless assembly worker" reported to have made a manufacturing error that had possibly opened up further once in space. However, the latest formal investigation reveals the Russians believe the damage is far beyond a mere manufacturing error, and have thus dismissed the idea that it was accidental or an assembly error.
Previously a Russian space program source described to TASS news agency that “There are drilling traces not only inside the living module [of the ISS], but also on anti-meteorite plates.”
These plates have been described in media reports as "mounted outside of the station’s hermetic hull". “The one who made the hole in the hull passed straight through it and the drill head hit external non-hermetic protection,” the TASS source explained. "The top of the drill came through the pressure hull and hit the non-gas-tight outer shell."
Officials now hope that a secondary investigation will locate a suspect or suspects responsible. The investigation will continue even as Russian media in some instances has speculated on sensational claims that American astronauts secretly sabotaged the Russian vessel docked at the space station; however, such an act could have potentially caused danger to the entire ISS including the American sectors as well.
A prior statement between the Russian space chief and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had attempted to calm widespread speculation and accusations of foul play: "The Administrator and the General Director noted speculations circulating in the media regarding the possible cause of the incident and agreed on deferring any preliminary conclusions and providing any explanations until the final investigation has been completed," the statement read.
And further, the NASA statement said of Russia-NASA cooperation: "They affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating the cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation."
NASA has denied the possibility that Americans could have had anything to do with it. However, this latest turn certainly adds suspense to an already very bizarre saga playing out dangerously in space.