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Russian Cosmonauts Say That the Hole in the Soyuz Was Drilled from the Inside (universetoday.com)
172 points by tlrobinson 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments

So I was teaching a new guy on building some of the interior work on sailboats. I showed him how to drill a couple of holes through the fiberglass flange to mount something-or-other. Several hours later my boss asks me why there's two small holes in the hull. Well, I didn't specifically tell him not to drill through the flange, the cm of space, and through the whole hull.

I'm a smart person but when learning stuff I often feel really dumb because I ask what should be really obvious questions. It's some weird mix of ignorance and fear of doing it wrong in front of the boss.

"So fasten x to y with a screw."

"Do I drill through and into the workbench too?"

"Why would you do that?!"

(In my mind) well I saw someone else fastening a work piece to the bench temporarily like that and why would the screw be this long then? Oh wait yeah that makes zero sense. My logic centre isn't working fast at all.

If you don't know, it is not clear that it makes zero sense. I'm often on each side of this, and what it really drives home is that most people do not actually consider most of the ways in which something can be done differently. :)

Classically illustrated by the "give instructions to make a sandwich game" https://youtu.be/cDA3_5982h8

Yea. Brains work differently. Some optimize for least-wrong; others curiously search for most-right or why is it right?

Learning how to suffer fools and survive foolish aggresses is a real thing in some jobs, and it will quickly make you abandon curiosity.

There are lots of times that you drill/saw past the piece you are cutting and into the support material, the bench, below. This generally makes for cleaner edges. Normally you put a sacrifice piece underneath, but sometimes the workbench takes the hit.

My dad made me buy him some hole filling putty with my pocket money after I did this to his workbench at an age where I really should have known better. Apparently you're meant to clamp an offcut between the piece you're drilling into and the bench.

In retrospect do you think your dad's approach was an effective teaching method?

I'm slowly trying to figure out what kind of disciplinarian I'm going to be with my boys.

It was more effective than just grounding would have been, since it had a certain fairness to it. He also helped me apply the putty, and gave half my pocket money back after it was fixed "because the jar was still half full", which is kind of funny in retrospect.

It's probably easier to create teaching moments when your kid does something negligent or thoughtless, rather than downright malicious.

That’s awesome. Your dad had a good head on his shoulders during those moments. Cudos.


Did you mean “kudos”? ;)

Depends if it was accompanied by insults and derision (bad) or patience and understanding that it is a learning opportunity and mistakes need to be rectified (note I didn't say paid for)

This is the approach I (try, and try and try and try) to take with my kids (6,4,2). I repeatedly tell them I will never be mad at them for mistakes, but they have to help fix them- whatever that may be. I also tell them I will get mad if they do it on purpose and/or I’ve instructed them not to do said thing that caused whatever issue. I try very hard to be explicit with instruction. Saying “be careful” doesn’t mean a whole lot, but saying “pour the water slowly and with two hands” can lead to a good result. Or “don’t jump off the couch because [insert reasons]”.

Frankly, they’re young and even when they’ve done something on purpose or are being bratty I try to coach them up again, sometimes I lose it and get mad- but I never use derision or name calling.

Losing it is usually just “Why? WHY?! Why did you just pull the step stool out and use the Christmas tree as a punching bag after I told you to stay back because it will fall over?!”

I use my logic brain to try and rationalize myself into a calm state, “well you told them to be careful with the jug of water, you didn’t say don’t pour it all over the dining room table”.

Man, they find some awesome ways to make a disaster sometimes...

This is a treasure trove of wisdom. Thank you for sharing. The challenge I have is my hard wiring for anger with pain. I'm a goofy dad but when my toddler swings his skull full speed into my jaw, a spark ignites something in me and my civilized brain can muster one thing: put him down, go to the garage, and kick a garbage can. Otherwise I have this uncorked rage and I feel scared with it.

I'm not proud of it but I acknowledge that it's in my wiring.

It's ok to go kick a garbage can sometimes. Raising kids is hard enough without feeling bad for damaging garbage cans.

Pro-tip, though: don't kick walls. Broken toes suck.

A stud once every 16 inches? I like those odds!

Broken drywall sucks too. Especially after it's been sitting there half-repaired for 6 months and your spouse keeps nagging you about it.

Or you repair the hole and spackle/mud it, but put off painting it for 3+ years :)

Could have been masonry.

Better kicking a garbage can than the child haha. I can totally relate as my toddler does the same thing. Saying “don’t do that” only makes him do it again. Saying “that hurts” makes him laugh.

In my book, it's OK and maybe even a good thing to react emotionally (verbally, not physically). A good pain scream seems to put some fright into my kids ("Daddy's really strong! If he screams, it must really hurt!"). I think it teaches them that their actions have consequences, and it makes me feel just a little bit better.

Amen, I know exactly how you feel. I historically have had zero patience for incompetence or bullshit. My temper generally flashes and goes away pretty quickly, as in I can get pissed at you and use some crappy tone/attitude and then work through it or be over it in the same 30 second span.

This can flash with my kids, but frankly I’m surprised at how much patience I naturally have with them. I work on it, as I mentioned before, but the level of empathy I have is many multiples of what I was capable of before my first child was born- and this might be one the best gifts (as of yet) that fatherhood has bestowed upon me. It’s made me a better person all around.

I too good around and wrestle with my kids, it’s pretty much my favorite thing to do with them, but there is nothing that can make me see red (literally and figuratively) like taking an adorable little foot to the nose, eye, and/or balls. My dad would get mad, as is my natural inclination, and I still remember how shitty I would feel. It takes everything I can muster not to get mad when it happens, but I usually just drop to the ground (only sometimes is it voluntary) and put on a show (only partially exaggerated) of daddy being hurt.

This has had unanticipated consequences, like them thinking it’s funny that if you hit dad in the groin, you can make mom laugh and jump on him while watching tears roll down his cheek. So we nipped that with the same “if it’s on purpose you’re in trouble” method.

Recent anecdote to add: I replaced our third TV in 18 months yesterday. Our middle previously killed it on accident with a super soaker he brought in the house to get his brother with. The second time he was using his plastic sword to fight the pirates on TV at grandmas, and this time he was swinging the wooden fishing pole he got as a Christmas present, it left his hands and took out the display panel.

The TV is mounted 6’ high and he wasn’t being malicious. Other than at grandmas he wasn’t even trying to interact with th TV. So how the hell can I punish him for (really expensive) accidents? I told him it takes two weeks for me to work to be able to afford to fix it. He’s got to do a couple extra basic chores in the morning and night, and I had him give me ideas for how we could prevent it in the future. Most of which involved force fields and elaborate structures and didn’t address not using the living room as a jungle gym, but still...

Now that I’m thinking of it, I need to call my parents and apologize for my entire childhood. Again.

I told my son I would never be made at him for a mistake, then he mistakenly tried to kick my hand while wrestling and his heel nailed my jaw and I bit hard into my bottom lip.

I was so mad ;)

But generally, yeah, I talk to him about stuff and go over consequences and empathy and such, and I agree it works pretty well.

Making stuff is half figuring out what to do and half fixing the inevitable mistakes

Completely unrelated but since you are asking about teaching methods. My father did this regarding food. If eventually it turns out my sister and me didn't like a particular thing recipes were adjusted.

But to make us kids at least try, if we didn't finish our meals or we're being picky. He would put the plate on the counter and make us stand there until we finished. It was effective. It wasn't cruel, it was simply a method of making sure I finished my meal and tried new things. A solid balance in my opinion.

>> method of making sure I finished my meal

That approach has been linked to the obesity crisis. MacDonalds knows all about it, the need to finish what is given to you regardless of whether you are still hungry. They observe the lengths customers go to get that last fry at the bottom of the container. We should at least consider teaching kids today to not eat everything on the plate every time. Perhaps they should learn to stop on their own.

Come to think of it, that may explain some of my serving sizes. When I eat at Subway, I always take the 6" size and it satiates me. When I eat a pizza, I eat the whole thing and I'm not satiated before I've finished it, even though it's vastly more filling than a 6" sub.

The approach was to serve a reasonable amount of food. But the intent was to force me to try new things when I was simply being a picky eater. If I didnt like a particular thing after two or three meals, fair enough. It wasn't meant to force me to gorge myself, it was meant to force variety and it worked.

If I ate 80-90 percent and said I was full that was fine. When I was simply being picky because it was new, that's where that tactic came into play.

Do like the Japanese, stop when you feel 80% full, let the brain catch on the the fact that you Are no longer hungry.

What if I feel 84% full?

You're getting down voted, but you make a good point.

I'm not sure what 80% full is either? Is it satiated rather than full?

There is a known trick to get these 4% out.

I recommend finishing your plate but then adjusting the timing/size of your next meal according to hunger.


In my case the workbench is the sacrificial piece. I have a 3/4" sheet of MDF on top of my workbench that I can screw into/paint/whatever, and just swap it out when needed (ends up being every 18-24 months with my fairly limited usage).

> My logic centre isn't working fast at all.

Your logic centre was working plenty fast enough. It's just hard for someone who already knows to procedure to appreciate just how open-ended the possible space of procedures is. It seems obvious to them, but only because their mental filters are already blocking out other possible solutions.

I just started a new job, so to reduce anxiety about how much I dont know I'm trying desperately to hold on to beginners/childs mind - absorbing without doing my normal immediate '"let's connect this to all I know". It seems to be working, in the sense that I'm learning new material quickly without overwhelming frustration at not knowing how to do things or what a lot of terminology means, but I also have a lot more incidents like you describe - because I'm not yet trying everything together, conclusions about what makes zero sense are absent.

Still, at least in this first month, I wouldn't want to change methods.

I do the same about the simple/obvious questions, cuz it's what's has worked for me. I do however understand the look on people's faces when even they question how could I make such stupid questions.

I wonder if that's because a lot of tools (and software) are nowadays designed so that you can't make a mistake, or if you do, it's easily fixable.

Somewhat tangentially relevant, one of the reasons people find math particularly hard is because many people come into math with attitude that some things are "obvious", "self-explanatory", "common sense".

"The proof is trivial and is left as an exercise to the reader."

Sometimes it's infuriating.

And then we find that mathematicians have wicked senses of humour so use words like “common sense” as a self-deprecatory reference to the decade they spent finding the proof :D

Do you ever find yourself in the position whereyou are holding a brand new drill (for instance) in your hand, and you are just desperate to try it on something. I am the same with a new knife, something is going to get cut. Maybe this happened? "I wonder how well this drills aluminium, OMG it went right through"...pretend nothing happened.

It is a bit like developers with a new js framework I suppose.

Seems more likely to me that some situation like "stacked panels, top panel is drilled thru and fabricator didn't notice" followed by someone else assembling it and thinking "this hole might be here for a reason".

1. Scratch marks around the hole means that panel was likely not obstructed by anything [but possibly soft material]. Stacked panels is unlikely.

2. Drill was hand-held - again due to the marks where drill bit was trying to find it's way around.

3. No any markings from pen/pencil or anything that would show that any kind of measurements were done beforehand. Which means that the hole was not part of any specific fixture/attachment or construction element.

Which strengthens hypothesis that the purpose of the hole was the hole itself. Location and/or precision of the hole was not important as much as the hole itself.

At this point precise inspection is needed to find the tool used as well as determine which person's suit/clothing/outfit/personal belongings (astronaut's or technician) contain the traces of the metal that fall off as a result of the hole drilling effort.

Conclusion that the hole was intended is not likely. The hole has its own drift mark, you can still get a drift mark after punching through your piece. There are 3 drift marks, 3 other bit taps, 2 or 3 more bit taps further back where the panel jig-jogs (this was what they were shooting for in the first place, this dead space where the bit could punch through safely.) Most people that drill a lot of holes in metal have the finesse and dexterity to know when you've punched through a piece. Whoever did this drilling does not have those skills.

When you hand hold a piece like this you rely on gravity and can put your weight down firmly against it so it doesn't move, even after punching through. Much tougher to do in space with no gravity, you need to use the frame itself to push against. If this was done on the ground it would have to be by a complete incompetent or drunk individual to make 8-11 damaging marks on the frame. Secondly in the second photo you see a padding that would partially cover this, it looks undamaged, meaning they lifted this padding for the explicit purpose of using that jig jog dead space in the frame as their 'punch through area.'

Lastly, since I've been in this situation many times, whatever they were drilling through would not fit on the frame in the orientation they needed for some of the holes they were planning on drilling, and thus this is likely why they missed their dead space safety area. The debris from this would now be floating where ever so impossible to use that to determine guilt from clothing. The only thing they can use is either preflight photos (the padding covered most the damage perhaps) or send every drill bit on the station back to earth for analysis; drifting your bit even on aluminum alloy will leave a signature. Correlate that with use records for component replacement times. You're also looking for components with holes in them that don't match the blueprints. When you're on a 'boat' though, sometimes these types of repairs are assumed and undocumented though (especially when you screw up.)

50/50 chance this was an astronaut or a very drunk contractor on ground. The most disturbing evidence here is the drift mark before the hole among the other bit tap marks. It implies the person drilling it did not have mental focus.

> The most disturbing evidence here is the drift mark before the hole among the other bit tap marks. It implies the person drilling it did not have mental focus.

It is possible the drilling was done well away from line of sight, say somebody drilling near the top of the capsule while standing on the acceleration couch after the stack was erected. Tough to control a drill when your arms are near full extension.

That's very possible but it seems that this was just being used as a table to drill upon and not just once but at least 8-11 times. Why would one strain to reach, line of sight or not, to use this as a table when surely some other affordance is closer.

How about two guys, one on the others shoulders, they get up there, find they need to drill a bunch of holes into the component they're trying to install. Now it's more trouble to come down and do it right. "Just hurry up, you're heavy!"

> Which strengthens hypothesis that the purpose of the hole was the hole itself.

Then why did they seal it with glue (that later failed)?

We have established the hole was made very badly, so you can not also say the person making it knew exactly the right kind and amount of glue that would fail at just the right time.

This seems like an accident to me, and someone tried to cover it up.

Which means that the hole was not part of any specific fixture/attachment or construction element.

I wouldn't be so sure about that --- "we need to mount an X, it needs to be roughly in this area", while possibly questionable in space, is not uncommon in other construction. It could be a similar scenario, except whoever was responsible identified the wrong area.

as well as determine which person's suit/clothing/outfit/personal belongings (astronaut's or technician) contain the traces of the metal that fall off as a result of the hole drilling effort

If it was done on the ground during construction, where many holes are drilled, I don't think that would work.

Not sure if the hull has other through holes for mounting stuff, but this one could easily be just that. Someone drilled a hole they thought made sense, it didn't, they sealed it with the wrong material and didn't say anything about it.

I bet every spacecraft has a couple non conformances like that.

I disagree. I would bet they have tooling and jigs to build a Soyuz, and this hole could be the outcome of a poorly clamped and placed jig. Having a jig would explain why they’re using a handheld drill and why there’s no evidence of measurement.

This is why you're not on the ISS ...

... and exactly why I'm not either ;)

> pretend nothing happened

Sure, but in the hull of the spacecraft that's leaking my air away, I'd still put a wad a chewing gum in the hole to patch it.

As someone who fought and lost a war with holes in an inflated mattress I have to say that even one atmosphere is a surprisingly powerful amount of pressure when applied over a long period.

On the other hand, it's probably easier when the air's moving the other direction.

One of the ideas was to put a piece of insulating tape inside so that it could push from there.

It would have worked if it weren't for a rubber column inside just next to the hole which required my tape to be curved at a right angle - screwing up any proper insulation.

True that, the air pressure would push the gum against the hole, rather than away from it.

Well, the first temporary seal was Alexander Gerst's finger :)

Honestly, I could see how this could happen.

It's a good thing that with Blue Origin, Amazon can deliver new drills everywhere.

In the museum on Nantuckut there is a display devoted to the USS Essex, a whaling ship (it is the ship that the whale rams, I think). One incindent that made an impression on me was a sailor, who was driven insane by boredom, and sabotaged the ship, just for something to happen.

I understand space to be unbelivably boring.

My boss's classmate from college went up to the ISS for the first time a couple of years ago. They graduated about 25 years ago and his classmate worked nonstop for 25 years to get to go to space.

My understanding is once there, you work 16 hour days non-stop.

I think most people would describe being on the ISS as anything else but "boring".

There was a mutiny on a Skylab mission due to overworking the crew

Overworking the crew and the absolutely horrendous quality of life on Skylab

ISS crew have more tasks than time, and typically undersleep.

Do you know this for a fact? Where can I learn more about how they occupy their time?

I recommend the ISS blog: https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/

Most people, sure. But it only takes one who's different.

that's a good recipe for insanity.

USS is only applied to US Navy ships in active service, so the ships name is just the Essex. An interesting parallel for sure.

the cosmonauts remain on soyuz for like 6 hours until they dock, mostly confined and executnig orders. whatever boredom probably comes later when they 're in the station

Well if it was drilled from the outside in, that would be spooky.

Not really. It was most likely done on the ground.

So, they are already here ...

I suppose. But I would think cabin pressure and such are checked pre-launch.

The hole was sealed with glue initially. Temperature change in orbit eventually made it brittle and fall out, so the loss in pressure was only detected in orbit, but not prior to launch.

That makes too much sense...

Ah. I see. Certainly these things are under constant video surveillance. Just review the tape?

Unacknowledged on Netflix

It would be even spookier if somebody (unexpected) knocked on the door...


(The joke is based on Russian pun: slang word for policeman is literally garbage, the title of the painting is "space garbage").

If it was deliberate then it sound like someone who doesn't know wtf they were / are doing. That rules out the astronauts, seems to point to someone on the ground, pre-launch, with nefarious intentions but a lack of knowledge on how best to execute that ill intent.


I’d guess incompetence over malice

I'm suggesting both. That is, someone with bad intentions but too incompotent to exectute correctly.

Good ol' Hanlon's Razor

What's the agregate pressure loss in the ISS which is just taken as "meh" and ignored? Is there one? I could imagine a leak being known from input/output maths but once you get to the error digits there are a number of sources of input and output (outgassing of materials? Incidental losses with inefficient vacuum pumps emptying Chambers) which would mean it wasn't clear there was a leak. I guess the Dynamics of a leak stand it pretty Stark: constant unremitting loss. Except of course if it's in a flexing part. Or a function of thermal change in orbit or a-periodic for some reason...

Cant they determinate the point in time when the air of the hole started acting as a thrust vector?

No need, they can determine the point in time the air started escaping from looking at the internal pressure.

Anyone have any good theories as to how this could have happened? Is it really plausible that it was "accidentally" drilled during manufacture, and not detected?

I mean, surely there must be some kind of testing step where they test that the craft is completely airtight. And no one is going to be drilling anything after that point.

Don't forget it was sealed, and the seal failed. So it was initially air tight.

To me that excludes sabotage, and instead points of error that someone tried to cover up. It also points to someone low-level/unskilled since they did a bad job of sealing it.

Do they know for sure it was sealed or is that just the theory how it would have got into space without detecting air loss on the ground?

Based on the tracks around the actual hole it looks accidental to me.

Part of the point of looking outside was to see if they could see any remains of the seal. Something was preventing it from leaking air, until it did.

Oh, I missed that part.

Yeah, makes total sense.

Well, it had been sealed with glue. So probably someone really did accidentally drill in the wrong place, sealed the hole with glue, and hoped nobody would notice. But then eventually thermal cycling borked the seal.

The astro/cosmonauts did it after the hole was discovered due to leaking air.

Should have used jbweld, it fixes everything.

There is a limited number of possibilities

1. Done by a right handed person on space (crew) or on earth (builders/crew/other).

2. Done accidentally (a drill machine slips) or with a purpose.

3. The purpose can be seen as good or bad for the mission. The result here was neither good nor very bad, so can be neutral also.

4. A neutral purpose can still serve a role as a tool to alter the status of the cosmonauts either punishing them or improving their situation (like in: returning home faster or somebody drills a small hole to be able to fix it later as an hero).

They should look for shaving cream in trash and check it.

Shaving cream? Why?

Sounds like a Jurassic Park reference (inside job / sabotage)

Not a joke and unrelated with jurassic park or any other film reference. It was not used as a metaphor here. I'm talking about the real product for good reasons :-)

I do this mistake sometimes, I am off in my measuring, and have to drill a hole beside the one I drilled. I know it's likely not the cause, but if I built a shuttle, maybe it would have holes like this too. :/

Anyone who has ever held a drill can see in the pic that it was drilled from the inside. That means nothing in relation to when, where or who did said drilling.

Can they figure out if it was drilled in space or Earth

There are drill bit skid marks, so, in theory, it might be possible to build some sort of a model (of a drill held by a human hand) and then see under which conditions these skids marks _are_ possible.

But that's without considering that the simplest explanation is usually the right one and the at-orbit sabotage is just not that.

Presumably there's a "breakout" burr on the outside surface of the metal which indicates that the drill bit emerged through that surface.

This only indicates that the hole was made from one side or the other-- we can't say for sure that just because the hole was drilled from the inside that it was done in orbit.

That would be very hard to remove evidence.

I wonder if the presence of gravity effects the way holes are drilled on the microscopic level

The smaller the length scale, the less important gravity becomes (think water glass versus water drop versus fog particle), so my gut feeling is that the answer is no.

I can't imagine it'd be easy to get away with secretly drilling a hole into a space station as small as the ISS. I mean, someone is bound to check where the unexpected drilling noises are coming from, right?

We knew that already in September, due to the way the hole was plastered up. With the wrong material. The spacewalk just confirmed the coverup by the engineer who really should have told his boss. With the right material to cover it up it would have been no problem at all, so it had to be fixed in space.

> they wasted no time plugging the hole with epoxy and gauze. [from article]

>Sealed with epoxy and resin [from photo caption]

I'm kindof confused, was it resin-impregnated gauze?

I'm also curious: If the hole was in a more-critical location, like one of the station's modules, would that be the repair process? Or would they be doing welding in space?

It's a small hole that doesn't really compromise structural integrity, and it doesn't have to hold that much pressure --- remember that sea-level atmospheric pressure is <15psia, and in the vacuum of space it's effectively 0, so the difference is <15psi.

This brings to mind a great Futurama scene:

> Fry: How many atmospheres can this ship withstand? > Farnsworth: Well it's a spaceship, so I'd say anywhere between zero and one

At least it wasn't drilled from the outside..

If the seal had remained, would the capsule have survived re-entry?

The hole was not in the part that reentered the atmosphere. Soyuz is made up of 3 modules: Orbital, Descent, and ISM. The hole was located on one of the modules that was jettisoned before deorbit.

Russian Cosmonaut says that the Hole in the ISS was Drilled From the Inside

Just to be clear, the title is incorrect. The hole is in the Soyuz, not the ISS.

Ok, we've changed that above.

The title is extremely misleading.


Please don't do this here.


Don't do this here.


Do what?

Post extraneous flamebait to threads. It lowers the signal/noise ratio and leads to worse.

Perhaps that section stunk and someone drilled a hole to relieve the stink to space.

Just adding the theory below for completeness. Search in the article for the part about the ISS:


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