The last thing you’d ever want to happen in space, just happened on the International Space Station
Here’s two words you’d rather not hear in space: “a” and “leak”
So, you’re on the International Space Station (ISS) and it’s all great and fun and you’re just having a whale of a time of it, and then HAL, or whatever the scary, sentient robot onboard is called, alerts you to the fact that there is a sodding air leak in the walls of your impenetrable spaceship, and then: you cry.
Essentially, this happened to the crew of the ISS the other day (month), and it was bad. What happened was, a big bit of rock, or an asteroid if you’re a fan of early computer games, smashed into the side of the Russian Soyuz vehicle, which was being used to bring three new crewmen to the station on 8 June, including Alexander Gerst, the man who can speak to robots.
The astronauts onboard were alerted to the danger by air pressure sensors on board (and HAL, probably) and were instructed to go and find the leak. According to Russian news agencies, the chief of the federal space agency Roscosmos (do one, that’s surely not real?), Dmitry Rogozin, said:
“Overnight and in the morning there was an abnormal situation - a pressure drop, an oxygen leak at the station.
“A micro-fracture was found; most likely it is damage from the outside. The design engineers believe it is the result of a micrometeorite.”
So what did they do to plug it and stop everyone’s guts getting sucked out their mouths and into space? One of the astronauts put his thumb in it, obviously. NASA’s ground control were watching a live feed, and were supposedly heard saying: “Right now Alex has got his finger on that hole and I don’t think that’s the best remedy for it.” Reassuring.
In the end they put sealant on a cloth and used it counter the oxygen leaking from the two millimetre hole, which seems pretty small, sure, but imagine getting sucked out of that? It would almost certainly be awful - you’ve gotta be careful up in space.*
The astronauts are currently “in no danger”, but are still deciding whether a more permanent solution and repair is needed. Not that we’re experts or anything, but we reckon YES, because there is a hole in your spaceship. It’s like you know when you see a car and they’ve duct-taped a bit of cardboard to a smashed window? It’s not a good solution - burglars can still get in - so being on an international space station and simply taping a hanky over the hole into space, hmm, it just doesn’t seem like it’ll cut it. What about the space burglars? What about all of the impending space doom? Didn’t think about them, did ya Gerst?
Thankfully, the hole is in the craft’s orbital module, which will be discarded before the craft returns to Earth (litterbugs), so it’s hopefully not going to be as scary as that time they accidentally had the ’biggest fire in space’.
Basically, those astronauts need to stop being such big space-babies about the whole thing and just pour a beer into the break room and float about drinking it out of the sky. Or whatever it is they do up there.
*Of course, you’re not actually going to get sucked out of a tiny hole and into space, because the difference in pressure between outside and inside is not hugely different. You might get a bit cold or a bit hot and if you left it unchecked it might be difficult to breathe after a while, but nobody’s getting crushed into a small straw of guts and blasted into the cosmos - which is a shame, because that means HOLLYWOOD LIED TO US. We were fools to have ever trusted them.