Russia may press criminal charges in 2018 ISS pressure leak incident

'These attacks are false and lack any credibility,' said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

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International Space Station (ISS) crew member Serena Aunon-Chancellor of the U.S waves as she boards the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft for the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan June 6, 2018.  Dmitri Lovetsky/Pool via REUTERS
POOL New / reuters

In 2018, astronauts aboard the International Space Station plugged a 2mm "hole" in a Soyuz MS-09 vehicle that had docked with the station in June of that year. While the pressure leak never posed an immediate threat to those aboard, it set off a bizarre turn of events that saw Russia open an investigation to find out if the incident was the result of sabotage.

Per an RIA Novosti article spotted by Ars Technica, the country's Roscosmos space agency recently completed its probe of the event and sent the results to Russian law enforcement officials, opening the door for them to announce criminal charges. Roscosmos didn't say anything official about the cause of the pressure leak, but that hasn't stopped Russian media from spreading misinformation.

The RIA Novosti article references Russian media reports that allege the hole may have been drilled by NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a crew member of the ISS at the time of the incident. Specifically, per Russia's TASS news agency, the country's Izvestia newspaper claimed Aunon-Chancellor may have drilled the hole out of a "desire to return to Earth because of a blood clot or a fight with her onboard the International Space Station." Citing its own source, TASS claims "the hole had been drilled in weightlessness by a person not acquainted with the spaceship's design."

According to NASA, the possibility that its astronauts were involved in creating the pressure leak is non-existent. As Ars Technica notes, NASA knew the location of all of its astronauts before the leak started and the moment it began. None of the US astronauts aboard the ISS at the time of the incident were near the Russian compartment where the Soyuz was docked when it started leaking air. The US shared this information with Russia when Roscosmos began its investigation in 2018.

"These attacks are false and lack any credibility," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told the outlet. "I fully support Serena and stand behind all of our astronauts." We've reached out to NASA for additional information.

The accusations come at a time when the relationship between NASA and Roscosmos is already fraught. On November 15th, Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test that created a debris field that forced astronauts on the ISS to seek shelter aboard their spacecraft. The US condemned the trial, accusing the country of putting everyone aboard the ISS, including Russian cosmonauts, in danger.

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