On February 11, Russian scientists were made aware of a depressurized zone inside the coolant loop of one of their craft at the International Space Station, according to NPR. The Russian crew at the ISS is not endangered.
The discovery happened several hours after the MS-21 cargo ship set to deliver supplies to the ISS had docked and had been unloaded. The hatch between the cargo ship and the station was temporarily closed to stop further loss of pressure in other parts of the station, NPR continues The MS-21 delivered nearly three tons of food, water, fuel, and scientific equipment to the astronauts stationed there and was then filled with waste from the ISS meant to burn up on the return trip to earth. This incident came within hours of the safe docking of another supply ship MS-22, which also carried food, water, and fuel.
NASA has been assisting their Russian counterparts in troubleshooting what could have caused the depressurization, but have so far not found a definite cause. According to one of NASA’s official statements, “Officials are monitoring all International Space Station systems and are not tracking any other issues.” In the meantime, the crew aboard the station are continuing on as normal and the cargo ship is set to undock from the station and burn up in the atmosphere on February 18, according to ABC News.
This is the second incident aboard the International Space Station in several months, with a similar issue occurring last year. In late December, a capsule that was planned to retrieve the three astronauts still currently on the ISS was struck by a micrometeoroid and started leaking coolant, according to Reuters. The puncture was less than one millimeter wide, and the ship was not otherwise damaged. However, this caused the astronauts to extend their mission by a few months until another ship can be sent to retrieve them, as a leak in coolant would cause temperatures in the capsule to reach anywhere from 86-104 degrees Fahrenheit. There have been talks about the possibility of using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon ship in case Russia is unable to launch another capsule.
Sergei Krikalev, Russia’s chief of crewed space programs, said that the damage highlights that “space is not a safe place, and not a safe environment,” as he told Reuters. “We have meteorites, we have a vacuum and we have a high temperature and we have complicated hardware that can fail.”
Since the recent incident, more questions are being raised about the integrity of the capsules that Russia is sending to the Space Station. The possibility of manufacturing defects are being brought up due to the age of Russia’s infrastructure and technology and quality-control issues, reports . The main cause of these theories is the lack of documentation on the damage to the capsule. There has been no direct image released to the public of the hole where the meteorite hit.
However, NASA has agreed with the Russian Space Program that the damage was caused by a meteorite. Krikalev told ABC News that experts “need to conduct a thorough analysis to make sure that [the materials and technologies used] wouldn’t affect similar components that will be used in the future,”. Both NASA and the Russian space program have indicated that these incidents should not affect the station’s future flight programs.
Image courtesy of NASA Johnson, Flickr