The ISS astronauts later used tape and gauze to seal the hole more permanently.
One of the dangers of floating in a space station is that you really have to worry about leaks. After all, there’s only a thin metal shell standing between you and the vacuum of space, and even a small hole can quickly prove disastrous.
That’s the reality the astronauts aboard the International Space Station awoke to yesterday, when it was discovered that a small leak in the station was causing the air pressure inside to drop. Fortunately, the hole was small enough that it wasn’t life-threatening, and one of the astronauts simply plugged the hole with his finger while waiting for a more permanent fix.
Initially, ground crews monitoring the ISS noticed the leak because of a small drop in air pressure aboard the station while the astronauts were sleeping. With a larger leak, the astronauts would have been woken up right away, but this particular leak was small enough that NASA decided it could wait until morning.
Once the astronauts woke up, they immediately spent the first few hours hunting down the leak. They finally located it aboard the orbital section of Soyuz spacecraft MS-09, although it’s not exactly clear what could have caused it. The leak itself is a small hole two millimeters wide, and NASA suspects it was caused by a small micrometeorite punching a hole in the wall.
At first, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst simply plugged the hole with his finger to stop the leak, but of course, that’s not sufficient as a long-term solution. Instead, the astronauts used epoxy and Kapton tape—a form of high-strength tape commonly used in spacecraft—to seal the breach. As of this writing, the air pressure inside the station is stable, which means the seal is working.
Still, it’s likely that both NASA and the astronauts aboard the ISS would prefer an even more permanent solution than this, but it’s not clear at the moment what that solution would be. The astronauts may simply have to survive with their tape and gauze patch until the space agency comes up with something better.