Sci-tech

Cosmonauts examine 'mysterious hole' on ISS spacewalk

Cosmonauts examine 'mysterious hole' on ISS spacewalk

The hole, detected in August, caused an air leak on the space station.

Expedition 57 flight engineers Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos conducted the 7-hour and 45-minute spacewalk.

Today, Prokopyev joined Kononenko on a spacewalk to inspect the fix area from the outside in an effort to discover what caused the leak and to collect a sample of the epoxy that had extruded through the hole from the inside. So far, the capsule has remained secure and pressure on board the space station has maintained. Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev are inspecting a section where a mysterious leak appeared on August 30.

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During the an nearly eight-hour spacewalk, veteran cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev struggled, but eventually succeeded, in cutting away the insulation covering the hole and taking out a sample to analyse. To expose the external hull, Kononenko needed to cut away a 10-inch (25-centimeter) swatch of thermal insulation and debris shield, a slow and hard task. They will uncover the thermal insulation covering the patched hole and take samples that will be studied by experts.

The spacewalkers reported seeing no drill marks around the black dot, like on the inside. As he vigorously cut into the spacecraft, small bits of insulation floated off into space.

Kononenko used a pair of forceps and a swab to collect samples of the dark epoxy. This part of the capsule will be jettisoned as usual before atmospheric re-entry, and so poses no risk for descent.

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The samples, data and photographs taken from the leak site will be brought back to Earth and analyzed by Russian specialists.

Tuesday's spacewalk began at 10:59 a.m. EST (1559 GMT) and ended at 6:44 p.m. EST (2344 GMT) when the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment was closed. It was the first-ever operation to unseal the meteorite protection shield during a spacewalk in the history of space exploration.

This was Kononenko's fourth EVA and Prokopyev's second.

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Prokopyev, who's been on the station for six and half months, will use the MS-09 he's investigating Tuesday to return to Earth with the European Space Agency's Alexander Gerst and NASA's Serena Aunon-Chancellor on December 20.