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Russian cosmonaut Kononenko approaches Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft for inspection

Russian cosmonauts are expected to perform the first-ever operation to unseal the thermal insulation in space

MOSCOW, December 11. /TASS/. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko used the Strela-2 boom to approach his intended worksite at the exterior of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft where a hole caused a pressure leak this August.

"[Slashing] the spacecraft with a knife makes my heart bleed," Kononenko said, using a knife to cut open the thermal insulation layer that covers the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.

Earlier in the day, the two Russian cosmonauts began their six-hour spacewalk, intended to investigate the causes of the leak. They are expected to perform the first-ever operation to unseal the thermal insulation in space. Kononenko is wearing the red-striped Orlan spacesuit, and Sergey Prokopyev - a blue-stripped one.

A TASS correspondent reported from the Russian Mission Control Center that Kononenko adjusted his feet to the the tip of Strela boom operated by Sergey Prokopyev. The crane may extend to the length of 15 meters and can be used to transfer objects along the full length of the Russian orbital segment.

During the spacewalk, Kononenko is expected to unseal thermal insulation and the meteorite shield, inspect and make a photo of the hole in Soyuz. He will also scrape off samples from the hole’s surface and remove a part of the meteorite shield bearing traces of drilling. The Russian cosmonauts will send them aboard the same Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft to Earth on December 20 for further studies.

After that, Kononenko will patch the area with new thermal insulation material.

If the cosmonauts have time, they can also perform two scientific operations outside the ISS.

Soyuz hull damage

On August 30, a drop in air pressure was registered on the ISS. The crew examined the compartments and add-on modules one by one to identify a two-millimeter hole in the hull of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft attached to the orbital outpost. In the evening of the same day it was patched up with several layers of epoxy resin. Pressure returned to normal. On August 31 the crew reinforced the patch with another layer of sealant.

The head of the Roscosmos corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, said the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft had been damaged with a drill from the inside. The space rocket corporation Energia is conducting an investigation to identify those responsible. Inquiries are being made into who had access to the spacecraft, what works were carried out, and who supervised them.