The Russian government is threatening criminal charges against a NASA astronaut whom they claim deliberately bore a hole through part of a Soyuz spacecraft when it was docked to the international space station in 2018.
One problem? The charges are completely made up.
Roscosmos told Russian media that it sent the results of its investigation into the hole to law enforcement officials, stating that the results of the investigation regarding the hole of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft were sent to the police.
According to tech website Ars Technica, in Russia, the results of technical investigations are sent to law enforcement officials to allow them to decide whether or not to launch a criminal case, which is similar to an indictment in the United States. Russia does not have a grand jury system, where investigators hand over their evidence to prosecutors who must typically convince a group of people to file charges.
The tiny breach, which was only 2mm in diameter, was something of an embarrassment for Russian space officials. Despite the fact that no astronauts or cosmonauts were put in danger, the small hole could have depressurized the station in about two weeks if it was not discovered. Fortunately, the cosmonauts were able to fix the hole with epoxy, allowing it to fly safely back to Earth.
Questions over who or what created the hole have been the focus of investigators since then, with some in the Russian media suggesting that the hole may have been caused by a manufacturing or testing defect. However, some members of the Russian government suggest that the hole may have been created by a disgruntled NASA astronaut, who may have suffered an “acute psychological crisis” after suffering deep-vein thrombosis and drilled the hole in an attempt to expedite her return to Earth.
NASA rejected the claims at the time, Ars Technica reported.
Russian officials, who have since completed their investigation into the hole have suggested another theory. Speaking to the Russian media, officials floated the theory that astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor may have drilled the hole “due to stress after an unsuccessful romantic relationship with another crew member.”
The claim is meritless and without credibility, and is one of many conspiracy theories being floated by Russian officials to save them from embarrassment.
“These attacks are false and lack any credibility,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I fully support Serena and stand behind all of our astronauts.”
Since 2018, NASA has known with certainty that the allegations against its astronauts are false. According to Ars Technica, NASA’s space station program, which is based in Houston, was able to determine that pressures began falling in the space station in late August 2018. The organization also knew the precise location of U.S. astronauts on the station, as well as the instant it began.
NASA determined that none of the U.S. astronauts were near the Russian segment where the Soyuz vehicle was docked. NASA shared this information with its Russian counterparts.
NASA has grown increasingly incensed by Russia’s actions in recent days. A few weeks ago, the Russian military shot down one of its own satellites as part of a test, forcing astronauts aboard the space station to shelter for safety for over two hours. A planned spacewalk was also delayed due to debris concerns.
Russia’s behavior, which is puzzling to anyone who’s followed the space program and knows that the two countries have cooperated quite amicably for decades, may create a permanent rift between the U.S. and Russia in space.