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Russians suggest astronauts may be guilty of space station sabotage

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet gives an interview to AFP on May 30, 2017, aboard the International Space Station. Russia has suggested that a small hole aboard one of the station's Soyuz modules could be sabotage. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia's space agency has suggested that astronauts aboard the International Space Station may have tried to sabotage a Russian Soyuz module that was docked at the station.

How badly was the module damaged?

A tiny hole, just two millimeters in diameter, was found in a Soyuz capsule on Aug. 30. The leak was large enough to cause a small drop in cabin pressure, but not large enough to pose any real threat to humans in the space station. The day after the hole was discovered, a sealant was used to repair the damage.

The Soyuz capsules are used to ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS from Earth. This particular capsule reached the station in June carrying three cosmonauts, and is scheduled to return to Earth in December. The damage is not expected to interfere with the plans to use the capsule to return some of the station's occupants to Earth.

What did the Russians say?

Initially, the damage was assumed to have been caused by space debris. There are more than 170 million individual pieces of this debris in Earth's orbit.

However, Russian authorities concluded that the hole itself had been drilled, although they refrained from saying whether they thought the hole was drilled in space or while the capsule was still on Earth.

“We are checking the Earth version. But there is another version that we do not rule out: deliberate interference in space,” Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's Roscosmos space agency, told Russian media outlets.

Rogozin said that they had determined that there were “several attempts at drilling.”

The Russians said that they would publicize the name of the person behind the incident if they discover it.

While former Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev suggested that the damage could have been caused by someone on the station who “might want to go home,” he admitted that it could also have been caused by a simple manufacturing defect.

For its part, NASA told the Washington Post that the U.S. agency  “will support the [Roscosmos] commission's work as appropriate.”

The current crew is made up of three Americans, two Russians, and a German.

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