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Astronaut uses finger to plug hole in International Space Station

STS-116 Shuttle Mission on the International Space Station. (NASA/Released)
September 03, 2018

While the International Space Station (ISS) orbited 250 miles above Earth, a micrometeorite crashed into it and left a hole.

NASA astronauts Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold and Serena Aunon, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency and two Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev and Sergei Prokopyev are currently aboard the ISS, and quickly took action due to the continual monitoring of orbital debris.

The hole was noticed Wednesday night when there was a slight drop in cabin pressure, The Sun reported. Astronaut Alexander Gerst placed his finger in the hole until the crew was able to patch it with a sealant.

“The leak has been isolated to a hole about two millimeters in diameter in the orbital compartment, or upper section, of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft attached to the Rassvet module of the Russian segment,” NASA said. “The rate of the leak was slowed this morning through the temporary application of Kapton tape at the leak site.”

“Flight controllers at their respective Mission Control centers in Houston and Moscow worked together with the crew to effect a repair option in which Soyuz commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos used epoxy (a resin) on a gauze wipe to plug the hole identified as the leak source,” NASA added.

During a live feed from the ISS, NASA’s ground control was heard saying: “Right now Alex has got his finger on that hole and I don’t think that’s the best remedy for it.”

The Russian crew then taped the hole, which slowed the leak, and two astronauts put sealant on a cloth and stuck it over the area. Moscow Mission Control suggested allowing the sealant to dry overnight and check it again the next day for leaks.

NASA astronaut Drew Feustel was apprehensive about the Russian sealant plan and said: “We’ve got one shot at this and we don’t want to screw it up.”

The impact of the micrometeorite was acknowledged by the Soyuz spaceship, which transported astronauts to the ISS back in June.

Flight controllers monitored the cabin pressure while devising an improved long-term solution. The astronauts took several photos of the hole, using a toothpick to offer scale to its size before sharing them with engineers.

The crew would have run out of air if the hole had not been detected.

A NASA spokesman said it was too soon for them to discuss the possibilities of the spacecraft and astronauts having to abort their mission and return home, if the leak is not completely containable.

The hole is located on a part of the craft which does not return to Earth, according to NASA, The Daily Star reported.

ISS, which acts as a space laboratory, has housed rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.