During an almost 8-hour spacewalk, Russian cosmonauts used a knife and shears to inspect the damaged Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft. The inspection comes ahead of the spacecraft’s return to Earth next week.
The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in July. Just four hours later, the spacecraft docked with the ISS’ Rassvet module breaking the record for fastest rendezvous with the station.
In late August, a small leak was discovered in the spacecraft’s hull after ISS mission control noted a slight drop in the station’s cabin pressure. The 2-millimetre (0.08-inch) hole was plugged by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst using epoxy and duct tape.
Yesterday at 15:59 UTC (1059 EST), Roscosmos flight engineers Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev opened the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment tasked with inspecting the hole from the outside. Utilising a pair of swinging Strela booms, the pair made their way from the Pirs airlock to the Rassvet docking module and then onto the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.
An astronaut hacking into a spacecraft docked to the @Space_Station as it orbits the Earth… that's not something I ever expected to see. pic.twitter.com/lhQ2OAtox3
— Rocket Rundown (@RocketRundown) December 12, 2018
Kononenko and Prokopyev then used a pair of shears and a knife to tear through the spacecraft’s multi-layer debris shielding and insulation making a briefcase-sized opening. Once the spacecraft’s metallic hull was exposed, the cosmonauts collected samples of the epoxy extruding from the hole and other materials found around the hole. These samples will be returned to Earth for analysis. Finally, the cosmonauts took close-up footage of the hole using a small GoPro-like camera.
Originally, Kononenko and Prokopyev were instructed to cover the area with a thermal blanket following their inspection. However, Russian officials instructed the pair to skip this step.
After securing the area and returning the way they’d come, Kononenko and Prokopyev safely returned to the Pirs airlock 7 hours and 45 minutes after leaving.
The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth next week with Prokopyev, Gerst and NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor. It is expected to depart from the station at 01:42 UTC on Thursday 20 December (20:42 EST on Wednesday 19 December). Prokopyev, Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor have spent the last six and a half months aboard the station.