back to article Russia: Forget about the Nauka incident. Who punched the hole in the Soyuz, hmm?

NASA's relationship with its Russian International Space Station (ISS) partner is under a similar strain to, say, an orbiting outpost that has been given a surprise spin by a malfunctioning module. The module in question is, of course, the long-delayed Nauka, which made an automatic docking to the ISS on 29 July before sending …

  1. xyz123

    Russia. Already on the verge of financial collapse, has to launch Nauka due to various ongoing treaties and contracts.

    They cannot afford to say they can't afford it.

    Then its a simple matter of sabotaging the ISS "just enough" you have a pretext to abandon the ISS entirely, claiming your cosmonauts aren't safe anymore.

    Hey presto! savings! all without admitting how the Russian Economy is on the verge of a fall that will make 1929 look like someone dropped a pound coin down the toilet.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Not to contradict you, but one has to admit that our financial situation isn't all that great either.

      Since 2020 the central banks in practically all "Western" countries have been printing so much money we're slated to not reabsorb the excess before 2080.

      Or so I've heard.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        In normal times that would indeed be a problem but in response to the costs of Covid EVERYBODY (bar Argentina) has been printing money hand over fist. So everybody’s currency is floating on a sea of liquidity. When everyone does it it’s fine (unless you’re Argentins which had to sell its final family silver to the IMF for a bailout after it’s disastrous experiment with dollarisation which is still not over).

        So all the QE is cool, until enough people stop doing it so straining the currency exchange rates. Then everyone will turn the taps off to the same degree at once. See above.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Since 2020 the central banks in practically all "Western" countries have been printing so much money we're slated to not reabsorb the excess before 2080.

        "Or so I've heard."

        The easy solution there is to stop listening to far right conspiracy theorists. That's total nonsense, as well as a version of (literally) some 1930s Nazi propaganda.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          We don't need to re-absorb the excess up to 2080. As we start to get inflation, the central banks can just start selling their government debt back to the markets to re-absorb the excess liquidity. Then they simply press the buttons on their computers to cancel the money they printed to buy them and Bob's your uncle. It's literally that easy. That is how QE was designed to operate from the start! It's also the reason it's not the same as money printing, and anyone who says it is, simply doesn't understand what they're talking about. I suppose it's perfecly fine to call it money printing as a shorthand, but as soon as you start to use that to make an ecomomic point - you're merely demonstrating your ignorance.

          The Fed were even doing this, before Covid came along.

      3. NoneSuch Silver badge

        Childish Actions

        Four kids in a sandbox all trying to be in charge and claim the toys for themselves.





        Pub rules should apply in space. No politics, no weapons and no religion. If we can't play together nicely in low earth orbit, we don't deserve to go any further.

        1. Robert Helpmann??

          Re: Childish Actions

          No politics, no weapons and no religion. If we can't play together nicely in low earth orbit, we don't deserve to go any further.

          I don't know about the rest of you, but the reason I want to go further is to get away from politics, et cetera.

    2. Lars Silver badge

      "on the verge of financial collapse".

      My feeling too but looking at the purchasing power parity (PPP) for 2019 in CIAs World Facktbook

      We find Russia as number 6 behind China, the USA, India, Japan and Germany but ahead of Indonesia, United Kingdon and France.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        looking at the purchasing power parity

        Sure, and Nigeria and Bangladesh are before The Netherlands and Switzerland.... that list doesn't mean what you think, and is easily skewed by large exports of things like oil.

        Turkey too - and it's in very bad financial waters.

        "A nation's GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates is the sum value of all goods and services produced in the country valued at prices prevailing in the United States."

        But often the local prices of goods and services if far lower than the prices prevailing in the US... and local business and governments don't get really the equivalent value of those in US

    3. MonsieurTM

      Are you mad? Roscosmos sabotage the ISS? A cash-cow? Recall that the ISS STAYS IN ORBIT because of the Zarakya module and the orbital manoeuvring system it has that has worked without hitch since 1998. An amazing success. It is THE oldest, in-service but of kit ever launched into space. A major success for the Soviet and Russian space programs. Yup, it is outdated now. Of course. Bit space is expensive, amortised over the 23 years the Zaraya module has got to be the cheapest thing NASA EVER bought!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Wouldn't be surprised if it was a US offensive cyber op that caused the Nauka thruster thingie.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Surely the two Voyagers are the oldest pieces of kit in space that are still in service. Even if that is only limited service at this point, as they're too low on power to run all their instruments.

        Oh, and Hubble launched in 1990. I'm too lazy to look for anything older.

      3. imanidiot Silver badge

        The only reason Russia still has a manned space program is probably it's participation in the ISS program. If it wasn't for that they might have called it quits by now.

        ISS is not a cash cow for them however. Even with what they're paid for doing their part they'll certainly not have much if anything left over after paying the bills on Soyuz and Progress launches, aside from ongoing maintenance costs on ground support equipment for ISS operations.

        NASA didn't buy Zarya, they don't own the Russian segment and if the Russians ever decide to stop their participation I don't think the Russian segment will be part of the ISS much longer as NASA doesn't have the means for ongoing support of those bits.

        (PS: you mis-spelled Zarya. Twice)

        1. Lars Silver badge


          While this topic is not of great interest to me I think you could have done some due diligence regarding Zarya.

          Quoting the Wikipedia here:

          " Zarya (Russian), also known as the Functional Cargo Block or FGB (from the Russian: "Функционально-грузовой блок", lit. 'Funktsionalno-gruzovoy blok' or ФГБ), is the first module of the International Space Station to have been launched." The FGB provided electrical power, storage, propulsion, and guidance to the ISS during the initial stage of assembly. With the launch and assembly in orbit of other modules with more specialized functionality, and as of August 2021 primarily used for storage, both inside the pressurized section and in the externally mounted fuel tanks. The Zarya is a descendant of the TKS spacecraft designed for the Russian Salyut program. The name Zarya ("Dawn") was given to the FGB because it signified the dawn of a new era of international cooperation in space. Although it was built by a Russian company, it is owned by the United States.".

          Note it's owned by the United States.

          And NASA again:

          "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research.".

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    There's no evidence that Belgian hackers were responsible - isn't that suspicious?

    1. tonique

      Re: Obviously

      They could've blamed Syldavian hackers.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Obviously

        Personally, I suspect the Sylvanian Families Mafia!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Space woodpeckers…

    …made the hole. No question about that.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Space woodpeckers…

      Woodpeckers? So it wasn't metal eating space termites after all.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Space woodpeckers…

        Might want to check the medical bay for any bleeding aliens

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Space woodpeckers…

          Aliens attracted to space stations… then there was this one very unfortunate hole.

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Space woodpeckers…

        The termites make a sieve like network of small holes. Their presence has probably not reached criticality yet. So the woodpecker theory is the most likely one.

        Except it might have been the Invisible Pink Unicorn (bless her holy horn). Other arriviste atheist pseudo deities will not be mentioned.

        Her holy horn might have made the hole. Prove me wrong.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Space woodpeckers…

          Her horn… indeed, the fearsome pink one. Everybody say ‘Praise the Horn!’ (Just in case)

    2. Babblefish

      Re: Space woodpeckers…

      Surely it was The Iron Chicken checking to see if it would make suitable nesting material.

    3. slimshady76

      Re: Space woodpeckers…

      I blame mynocks. You have to keep an eye for them, they like to chew on the cables.

  4. Imhotep Silver badge

    The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

    The Tass article went as far as suggesting that one of the American astronauts at the station became unhinged and drilled the hole to get an early ride home.

    It has been bad enough watching the incompetence of RosCosmos endanger everyone at the station - is this the third major fail on their part?

    But to follow that up with character asassination just reinforces the point that we really don't want them as a partner.

    Let them focus on working with China.

    1. HildyJ Silver badge

      Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

      "Let them focus on working with China."

      It does seem like the Russians are the only way to slow the Chinese space program.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

        The Chinese and Russians are notorious for above all not losing face, a sure route to disaster. In the west we usually listen to people like Richard Feynman and long may that continue.

        1. a pressbutton

          Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight


          You can generalise that to describe one of the main advantages the 'western' - sort of democratic - political system has over the 'eastern' - sort of undemocratic system (*)

          When things go wrong, we change our leaders with v. little friction. This is not generally so on in undemocratic systems

          There is a book "Why Nations Fail" by Acemoglu and Robinson. (from memory) they put forward the theory that it is the rule of law, good rules on the ownership of property, and the ruling class acting in a way that advantages all more than anything else. They do not include democracy.

          ... and thinking about that you could slightly reshape those principles to apply to a company and make a judgement on its prospects.

          They did make reference to China and their view was not positive.

          (*) yes there are eastern democracies / western autocracies, no I deliberately did not mention Trump

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

            The problem is that most US government programs, particularly its space program, are highly privatized. When so much of the actual work is done by employees of private companies, which themselves are run like feudal monarchies, you have to wonder how much of a benefit operating in a (representative) democracy really provides. That corruption, particularly of the CYA variety, exists in all governmental systems is undeniable. Go out to the private sector and you'll find it in spades. Recall that both government and private company managers actively drove the fatal decisions that killed two US space shuttle crews.

            In both those cases a combination of undemocratic decision-making processes and secrecy was fatal (if just _one_ of those involved had gone public before it was too late, or there had been a more democratic process in place that gave the subject matter experts a vote, disaster might have been avoided: but the rigid hierarchies and culture of secrecy within both the government agency and private companies involved doomed those crews).

            The ongoing smear campaign by Roscosmos and TASS is par for the course. I don't see much difference between it and the many similar efforts over the years by Western government agencies, private contractors, and corporate media to cover up and excuse egregious failures in defense of company revenue and individual careers.

        2. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

          The problem is we most often don't start listening to people like that until it's too late.

    2. MonsieurTM

      Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

      You are correct to point out that Rogozin & co are asses and that facile attack. Disgraceful.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

      If you read the Rusisian analysis of what happened -- and maybe took the politics out of the equation -- then you might realize that they have a point. There wasn't just one hole, there were several attempts to drill a hole but only one penetrated the skin. The Russians concluded from the marks that the hole was made by 'someone unfamiliar with the construction of the module'. Whether their conclusions about who did it and why were reasonable is debatable but the nature of the hole(s) and how they happened are not.

      Now we've finally got a home-made launch capability again (thanks, SpaceX) maybe we should let the Russians and Chinese go and do whatever and finally finish with this whole Cold War Part Deux nonsense.

  5. Timbo Bronze badge

    Seems strange....

    ...that Russia/RosCosmos want to pull out of participating in the ISS, now that NASA is not paying them to launch US astronauts/payloads into space to dock with the ISS.

    So, will RosCosmos "unhitch" any of their modules from the ISS, once they decide to abandon the ISS and chum up with China? I'm guessing there would be quite a few spacewalks to decouple various modules and to then reconfigure whichever modules are left...and re-jig the solar panels as well.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Seems strange....

      Roscosmos has proposed just that, but whether it is feasible or not is a good question - not only is China's latest space station in a different orbit, but it is in a different orbital inclination and changing inclination needs lots and lots of energy.

      So this is probably all bluster from a country whose economy is smaller than that of Australia and makes nothing that any of us actually want to buy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Seems strange....

        You don't want to buy the key to unlocking your own data?

    2. MonsieurTM

      Re: Seems strange....

      Nah: all the kit is outdated, fatigued (ref. holes in Zaraya and that's fatigue in aluminium, so think brittle fractal, catastrophic loss) and ancient. ROS would use newer kit becaus eit us just not worth it.

  6. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Supergirl's cunning plan

    First use tarot cards to anticipate the need for a hole in the Soyuz capsule. Next drill a hole (using laser eyes?) without making a noise and cover it up before the drop in pressure is noticed. Carry the capsule back to Earth and replace the cover with filler. This step must be done on Earth so the filler will not be pushed out by the pressure difference before it dries. (Laser eyes wont help here because of thermal contraction during cooling.) Carry the capsule back and dock it with ISS before anyone notices it was gone.

    Thermal cycling is going to take some time to release the filler so this gives Supergirl time to develop deep vein thrombosis, go mad with worry and forget she can fly back to Earth without a capsule any time she wants. By carefully timing the decomposition of the filler she can get a cast iron alibi for herself and her colleagues. She just has to arrange for the bung to fail and the pressure sensors cause an alarm while she is being watched working in the American side of the station.

    At this point the wheels fall off her cunning plan: the hole does not get her an emergency ride back to Earth.

    If Rogozin needs to come up with a distraction from Nauka he should come up with a story with fewer plot holes - or simply leave the job to Boeing.

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    As the saying goes...

    Never assign to malignity or conspiracy that which can be explained by incompetence...

  8. Nifty Silver badge

    Was there a 0.07 inch (1.778 millimetres) drill bit in the space stations inventory? We should be told.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      That the hole diameter is a round number in imperial measurements but not in metric does tend to finger the US. Unless of course the Russians used a US/UK drill bit as a double bluff . . .

      1. Imhotep Silver badge

        Are you referring to the .07" being a round number in the Imperial system?

        If so, drill bits here are sized in binary multiples: examples - 16ths, 32nds, 64ths, 128ths.

        But I can't see anything but metric being used on this equipment regardless of manufacturer, nor anything but metric tools being on the station.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          In any case, 0.07" is a rounding to Imperial, converted to metric. You can achieve the opposite by quoting the metric figure and an overly precise Imperial conversion.

          1. NomadUK

            Clearly, the 0.07 figure is a dead giveaway as to who was *actually* licensed to drill ...

        2. imanidiot Silver badge

          "If so, drill bits here are sized in binary multiples: examples - 16ths, 32nds, 64ths, 128ths."

          Ohhh if only it were that simple...

          Drill sizing in imperial is a mess. Not only are there inch and fractional inch drill sizes, there's also number and letter drill sizes (based on wire gauge sizes). 0.07inch is for instance exactly a #50 drill bit.

          (For your perusal here's a chart with the fractional, number and letter drill sizes starting at #80 up to 1-25/32")

          However, NASA works entirely in metric nowadays (bar a few kerfuffles in the past *COUGH*MCO*COUGH*) and the ISS should be entirely in metric. I don't see why they would have imperial size drills aboard.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            "I don't see why they would have imperial size drills aboard."

            I also work entirely in metric these days. I have no idea where the (loose, individual) imperial drill bits in my toolbag came from, but they're there.

  9. Mike Richards Silver badge

    What does Russia bring to the collaboration with China?

    Ten, twenty years ago, Russia had a clear lead over China in every area of space flight - experience of long duration missions, landing on the Moon, big rockets with enough UMPH! to lift big payloads. But now? China has achieved all of those with its own technologies, and in some cases, exceeded the achievements of Russia and the USSR.

    So, apart from possibly slowing the Chinese down, what does Russia have to offer?

    (There are similar issues in aerospace where China and Russia have been trying to build the CRAIC CR929 long-range wide body airliner. Proposed in 2014, it might just fly in 2025, but the two partners keep falling out over little things like the engines.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: What does Russia bring to the collaboration with China?

      There are similar issues in aerospace where China and Russia have been trying to build the CRAIC CR929 long-range wide body airliner.

      Didn't Ireland join that project, or at least get observer status? They're not there to help, just along for the craic...

      Sorry. Shamefacedly gets coat. My only excuse is I'd not seen the acronym for the project before.

  10. MonsieurTM

    "Near disaster" my arse. Sad reportage from El Reg. Of course Rogozin is an idiot and has a record of shooting his mouth off.

    The Nauka, after docking, fired it's manoeveeing jets this is naughty at worst. Yes the ISS tumbled, bit only after the Zaraya module was commanded to stop counteracting these firings. This was to conserve fuel in the Zaraya (which is designed to be refilled by visiting Progress). The activation of thes thrusters has been admitted, by Rogozin & Roscosmos to .... "exuberance" in the MKS, i.e. human error. Shir happens. No big deal.

    To mention the MIR and the Progress accident when under TORU contromis to conflate two entirely different situations.

    Note that Russia, unlike the US gas significantly MORE experience of humans-in-space than NASA.

    1. MonsieurTM

      I am curious why I should be downvoted: yes my grammar & spelling are imperfect, I am a "commentard" after all

      But I happen to have read quite a bit about the US and Soviet and Russian space-programs. No expert, just read a lot. I'd like to know from an expert point of view, what I got wrong. Could someone suggest quality peer-review literature to enlighten me? (As opposed to a ... "Meh: you're a dumb-ass, I hate you", response.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Because you're obviously a Putinbot, and the things you say are flat-out lies.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Because this is a forum for native russophobes, anglophiles who take every word from their infallible MSM as truth. What did you expect?

        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          "who take every word from their infallible MSM as truth"

          If you'd been here for more than 30 seconds you'd know that the exact opposite is true.

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      It's not the English, it's the nonsense.

    3. imanidiot Silver badge

      "Note that Russia, unlike the US gas significantly MORE experience of humans-in-space than NASA."

      I don't agree with you there. They have differing experiences but especially in more recent times I'd argue NASA has by now outpaced RU on experience levels. Russia's space program on the other hand seems to have more or less frozen in 1991. Everything they've done after that has been mostly minor updates of EOL parts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        100+ shuttle flights puts a lot more bodies above the atmosphere than any other country has, and we didn't leave lone astronauts to go stir crazy in MIR just to set endurance records.

  11. MonsieurTM

    The reason the Nauka was launched is it was a classic "death-march" project into which more money had been poured than the cost of extrication. It was simple economics. Of course politics was there, but bluntly the Russkis would have much rather used the money for the ROS than ISS, but the Nauka is old hat, ISS tech, useless for the ROS. So abandon it or launch? Just launch the fucker and have rid.

  12. MonsieurTM

    Recall the MiR and Progress + TORU problem: at the time Roscosmos was broke. The automated docking system, KURS was built Inthe Ukraine at the time, which, not unreasonably demanded hard cash from the Russian government to pay for the kit it supplies

    So, Roscosmos, strapped thought: well we have the manual TORU system, let's try that instead and see if we can do it manually without that pricey but of kit from abroad. So they operated the pprly-trained for mode. The basic problem was that the optics for viewing MIR fro Progress was... rubbish: the ability to judge distance appalling, spped useless. So it was an accident waiting to happen. Human factors problem.

    Subsequently Roscosmos had all the data overlays added and improved the cameras and optics. Also they regualraly, redundantly use TORU mode on purpose to maintain the skills for the tricky remote operation.

  13. MonsieurTM

    And let's be blunt; the final docking of the Nauka with the ISS when they moved to TORU co trol in the last few moments: grandstanding by the highly competent cosmonauts assuring themselves of a dinner at the Kremlin. Roscosmos was so assured that they permitted this remarkable switch froma successful automatic docking to manual in the last moments as ..,. frankly they know their shit.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Almost certainly a simple cock-up being drawn into a big conspiracy by politicians.

    Also, I'm sure the ISS has the ability to handle a bit of rotational tumbling. Otherwise it would have fallen out of the sky by now...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interetsing.. NASA spin good, Russian spin bad..

    Unlike the author of the piece I suspect I have been hearing warts and all stories and tales of life inside NASA for a good four decades. Usually from people who worked for NASA or the contractors. Levels of dysfunction almost as bad as the worse military contracts / DOD projects.

    So I post a comment pointing out that the story in in the TASS article might actually, you know, have a small element of truth about it. Saying this as a someone who read Soviet Life with great amusement back in the 1970's and who has worked with enough Russians over the years to know that old habits die hard. But it seems that posting an opinion that, you know, the NASA bureaucracy have a long history of not telling the complete truth and that the Russians often wrap a tissue of bluster around a core fact that is essential true. Well that seems to be an opinion too far for the shrinking violets who are the typical el Reg reader to read and decide upon.

    Oh well. But maybe an organization that was so functionally incompetent that all their own manned space projects collapsed in ignominy and ended up depending on their main rival for even basic space haulage of SLF's should not be considered an absolutely reliable source of information in any very public dispute of basic competence.

    Just saying..

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