CAPE CANAVERAL — Spacewalking astronauts sliced through thick insulation on a capsule docked to the International space station on Tuesday, trying to find clues to a mysterious drilled hole that leaked precious cabin air four months ago.
The space station’s crew patched the small hole in the Soyuz capsule last August, mistreatment epoxy and gauze. Russian space officials wanted the site surveyed from the outside, before the capsule’s return to Earth next week with Russian Sergei Prokopyev and 2 others.
That section of the capsule will be jettisoned as was common before re-entry, and so poses no risk for descent.
Russian Oleg Kononenko and Prokopyev had to use a pair of telescoping booms to reach the Soyuz. It took nearly four hours for them to cross the approximately one hundred feet to get to the capsule.
Oleg, smile, one of the astronauts called from inside, snapping his image. Russian Mission control outside Moscow urged the men to take their time, even though they were running behind.
The spacewalkers’ job was to gather samples of any epoxy sealant that may have protruded from the hole. to reveal the external hull, Kononenko required to cut away a 10-inch swatch of thermal insulation and debris shield, a slow and tough task.
Bits of silver insulating material floated away, as Kononenko slashed at it with a knife.
The leak caused a flap between the U.S. and Russian space agencies, following its discovery at the end of August. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole might have been drilled during manufacturing — or in orbit. The space station’s commander at time flatly denied any wrong doing by himself or his crew.
Rogozin has since backpedaled his statement, blaming the news media press for twisting his words.
A Russian investigation is in progress, according to Rogozin, and samples collected during the spacewalk will be came back to Earth on the Soyuz. Spacewalk findings could lead to superior repair techniques in the future, officials said.
The Soyuz is scheduled to depart the orbiting laboratory on Dec. 19, U.S. time, with Prokopyev, German Alexander Gerst american Serena Aunon-Chancellor and, the station’s current skipper. It ferried them up in June.
The section of the Soyuz with the hole will be jettisoned as was common before re-entry, and so poses no risk for descent.
Remaining aboard the 250-mile-high outpost for future six months will be an american, Russian and Canadian who arrived last week.