The Russian and American space agencies were working Thursday, December 15 to assess the seriousness of an impressive leak that occurred the day before on a Russian spacecraft docked at the International Space Station, and which could have been caused by a micrometeorite impact.
If the crew members were at no time endangered, this incident caused concern about the return flight to Earth of three of them, scheduled in a few months aboard the vessel concerned.
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The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft has been docked with the Space Station (ISS) since it brought the two Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitry Peteline there in September, as well as the American astronaut Frank Rubio.
On Wednesday, the two Russians were preparing for a spacewalk when an alert system went off, indicating a drop in pressure in the spacecraft's cooling system, according to a press release from the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
A NASA photograph showing the ship's leak.
HANDOUT / AFP
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Jet of white particles in space
On images broadcast by NASA, you could clearly see a jet of white particles escaping abundantly into space – a priori coolant.
The cause of the leak could be a micrometeorite
,” Sergei Krikaliov, director of human spaceflight for Roscosmos, said on Thursday, according to a statement reported by the Russian news agency Tass.
The liquid came from the rear part of the vehicle, docked at the Russian segment of the station.
The leak then stopped on its own.
The spacewalk was canceled, "
to allow time to assess the fluid and potential impacts to the integrity of the Soyuz spacecraft
," NASA said in a statement Thursday.
Crew members aboard the Space Station are safe and were not endangered during the escape
," she added.
Possible backup solutions
The two Russian cosmonauts and the American astronaut arrived in the ISS on September 21, aboard a Russian rocket launched from Kazakhstan.
They must normally reuse the same ship to return to Earth after about six months, i.e. an end of mission in March 2023. If the vehicle is no longer available because it is damaged, the possible backup solutions, which have not been officially detailed, could include the dispatch of a new vessel.
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Four other people are currently on board the ISS: Russian Anna Kikina, Americans Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, and Japanese Koichi Wakata.
All four are part of the Crew-5 crew, which arrived in the ISS in October aboard a spacecraft from the American space company SpaceX, whose services NASA hires.
The exchange of flying a Russian cosmonaut aboard an American spacecraft, and an American astronaut aboard a Russian spacecraft, was planned for a long time and was maintained despite the high tensions between the two countries.
The ISS is one of the few fields of cooperation still in progress between Moscow and Washington since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, launched on February 24, and the Western sanctions that followed.
The International Space Station was launched in 1998 at a time of US-Russian cooperation, following the space race the two countries had engaged in during the Cold War years.