Russian Space Chief Wants to Plug Leak on Orbital Station Hole

(Bloomberg) -- The gravity of the charge about the cause of a mysterious hole in a Russian Soyuz spaceship that’s docked with the International Space Station was lost on no one.

The Kommersant daily, citing an unidentified senior Roscosmos official, reported Wednesday that the leading theory among Russian space agency investigators was that U.S. astronauts had drilled the hole in order to expedite the return of an ill colleague to Earth.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin took to social media within hours with an angry response that didn’t quite deny the Russian newspaper’s scoop.

“Spreading conjecture and rumors about what happened on the ISS does not help the work of @roscosmos experts and is aimed at undermining the collegial relationship among the space station’s collective,” Rogozin tweeted. “Before the work of the special commission is completed, any allegations referring to ‘sources’ are unacceptable.”

Scott Kelly, a retired U.S. astronaut who commanded three ISS expeditions, had a more succinct answer to the claims. “Utter nonsense,” he told Bloomberg.

The two-millimeter hole was first detected Aug. 29, causing what NASA called a small loss of cabin pressure. While Roscosmos posted video from cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev on board the ISS showing that the hole has been plugged, the incident is an embarrassment for a space program that has suffered numerous setbacks including a launch failure in November.

Earlier, Russian media reported that the internal investigation suggested that the hole was deliberate and man-made, while a separate report said that the puncture was the result of an accident at a plant near Moscow.

The U.S. relies on Russia’s space agency to ferry astronauts and equipment to the ISS, paying $2.6 billion for the use of Soyuz rockets since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011. A NASA report in 2016 said the U.S. would spend $950 million to buy 12 seats for crew members in 2017 and 2018.

Private companies including Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. are developing manned craft that could end the U.S. dependence on Russia by the time the agreement expires next year.

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