Cosmonauts investigate mysterious hole in ISS outdoor operation

In clumsy space suits, two cosmonauts have to handle a tiny hole. Your field work at the ISS is successful: After almost eight hours, the two Russians return to the space station with photos, videos and samples.

Two cosmonauts have been working on a difficult outdoor mission on the International Space Station ISS, investigating the mysterious hole in the docked Russian space capsule. The Russian Oleg Kononenko used tools to cut through an insulating sheath and a protective shield to expose the small hole from the outside. He and his compatriot Sergei Prokopiev took photos and videos of the leak that had occurred in August for unexplained reasons and had caused a slight drop in pressure. They also took samples for Russian experts to study on Earth.

The complicated and physically strenuous outdoor work took almost eight hours and thus a good one and a half hours longer than planned. Both cosmonauts seemed to put the work to the test. “Let us not rush. Let’s go step by step so we don’t mess things up,” Kononenko said during the live broadcast.

At two millimetres, the hole is about the size of a match head. It was correspondingly challenging to work on the small opening in the bulky space suit with clumsy gloves and in weightlessness. The US space agency Nasa spoke of a “eureka moment” when the two had found the hole after several hours.

For the crew, the incident in August was harmless. The spacemen had sealed the leak with a special adhesive-soaked cloth. However, it is still unclear how the leak originated. The samples should clarify how well the seal held from the inside.

Kononenko had only flown to the ISS last week. He had previously been specially prepared for his fourth space walk. Kononenko spoke of a successful deployment, even if the time was overrun. “You’ve done a very good job. Please rest well,” Kononenko said to his colleagues on Earth. “It was sometimes very difficult, but we made it,” was the message from the control centre in Moscow.

In the station the German astronaut Alexander Gerst supported the two Russians. He and two colleagues are to return to earth with the damaged capsule in just over a week. She was “ready to come home,” said a Nasa spokesman. The protective layer of the capsule heats up to more than 1000 degrees Celsius when entering the Earth’s atmosphere, before parachutes stop the fall before landing in Kazakhstan.

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