When David Letterman hosted “The Late Show,” he liked to play a couple of games called “Is This Anything?” and “Will It Float?”. If Dave were back on TV today (and don’t we wish he was), he’d have a field day with the ongoing hole-in-the-space-station controversy which is in the news again this week after two Russian cosmonauts spent eight hours outside the station looking at the hole, scraping off a mysterious yellow substance and trying to come up with an explanation. Was it anything and will the explanation float?
"Yes, we also observe it [the hole]."
Sputnik News covered Russian Mission Control’s conversations with the two cosmonauts on the space walk earlier this week, the latest step in the mystery that began in August when a small leak was found in the Soyuz capsule attached to the Russian side of the ISS – a leak that was initially blamed on a meteorite (and initially plugged with the finger of an astronaut) but later suspected to have been made while the capsule was still on the ground and somehow managed to be patched well enough to pass inspections. While the hole was plugged from the inside with epoxy, its existence and the conspiracy theories surrounding its yet-unexplained cause forced Roscosmos to schedule the spacewalk to observe the hole from the outside.
“There’s nothing, that’s the problem.”
The task was easier planned than done, as cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko pointed out that he and Sergei Prokopyev had no handles, handrails or any other things to hold on to as they made their way 30 meters (100 feet) to the capsule and the spot when they thought the hole might be hidden behind insulation … a trip that took nearly four hours. Once there, they used a knife (this isn’t the Starship Enterprise) to cut a 25-by-25 cm (10-by-10 inch) piece from the insulation to expose the 2 millimeter hole and send videos back to Mission Control.
At this point, the plot thickens.
"The photos taken by cosmonauts have been studied, and no drill traces have been detected on the micrometeorite protection plates."
While the surface inside showed drill marks suggesting that the hole was manmade, there were no such marks on the other side. The cosmonauts were also seen scraping a mysterious yellow substance from the hole to be taken back to Earth for analysis.
"Some kind of double-flowering yellow. And black ones."
Was this description lost in Google translation or were the cosmonauts puzzled as they tried to figure out for themselves if this was something used to plug the hole on the ground or when it was found in space after the leak? Or is it something else?
At that point in the live broadcast, Russian Mission Control quickly ordered the cosmonauts to patch the insulation and get back inside – an order that took over three more hours to follow. Roscosmos head Dimitri Rogozin immediately commended them on a spacewalk that was “unprecedented in its complexity” and will “enter the history of space exploration.”
What about the mysterious yellow-black substance? Neither Rogozin nor Roscosmos had any further comments. The substance will be brought to Roscosmos on December 20th, but the part of the capsule with the hole will be discarded before hitting Earth’s atmosphere, which means the only clues to the cause of the hole are the videos and the strange substance.
What will Roscosmos reveal about it? Is it anything? Will it float?