NASA questions rumor that the ISS was sabotaged by an astronaut who wanted to return home



A NASA astronaut sabotaged the International Space Station


Rating: not testedRating: not tested

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In 2018, the question of whether a saboteur had intentionally drilled a hole in the Russian Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft sparked an investigation led by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Iterations of the claim appeared in x and a Reddit mail in the Theory/”Conspiracy”👀 thread in August 2023 that stated that the astronaut “was jealous and paranoid about what her boyfriend was doing on Earth, so she sabotaged[d] the entire space station” (archived here).

But did that really happen? It depends on who you ask. Russian media repeated an unfounded rumor that Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a NASA astronaut, had intentionally drilled a hole in the Russian spacecraft. NASA has publicly disputed the rumor.

Let’s go to the origin of this gossip.

The Soyuz MS-09 is a Russian rocket that was thrown out from Kazakhstan on June 6, 2018. Three crew members: NASA’s Auñón-Chancellor, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, were transported by the spacecraft to the International Space Station ( ISS) in June as part of a month-long six-mission voyage that would end on December 20, 2018.

On August 29, 2018, mission ground control in both Houston and Moscow detected signs of a “tiny pressure leak” that resulted in a “small loss of cabin pressure,” according to updates in the Blog about the status of the International Space Station as of August 30, 2018 (archived here).

The day after the leak, six crew members determined that there was a two-millimeter hole in the orbital compartment, or upper section, of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked to the Russian segment’s Rassvet module. This is a section of the Soyuz that does not return to Earth. Mission Control in Houston and the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow worked with the crew on board to repair using “epoxy on gauze to plug the hole.”

The crew was never thought to be in danger and after repairs, they continued their six-month mission.

(The hole is shown on the left before being repaired, as seen in the photo on the right. NASA)

Some Russian media reported the supposedly anonymous allegation that the hole could have been deliberately drilled by a crew member in space. According to an article published by the Russian news agency TASS, The then space chief of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, had said:

We are considering all theories. That of a meteorite impact has been rejected because the hull of the spacecraft was evidently hit from the inside. However, it is too early to say for sure what happened. But it seems to have been made by a hesitant hand… it is a technological error by a specialist. It was made by a human hand: there are traces of a drill sliding across the surface. We do not reject any theory.

For Energia Rocket and Space Corporation it is a matter of honor to find who is responsible for this, to know if it is an accidental defect or a deliberate deterioration and where it occurred: on Earth or in space. Now it is essential to see the reason, to know the name of the person responsible for it. And we will find out, without fail.

NASA and Roscosmos issued a joint declaration on September 13, 2018, announcing the Russian space agency’s plan to “establish a Roscosmos-led commission to investigate the cause of the leak” and acknowledging speculation “circulating in the media about the possible cause of the incident.”

In 2021, Russian media RIA Novosti reported that the investigation had been completed and the results sent to law enforcement officials for next steps.

“Previously, information appeared in the Russian media that the hole in the Soyuz was allegedly drilled by American astronaut Serina Auñon-Chancellor due to suffering after a failed romantic relationship with one of the crew members,” RIA Novosti wrote.

TASS too wrote in August 2021 that the hole could not have been made while the spacecraft was destined for Earth, but rather was drilled by a person while in space.

No further details were provided and, at the time of publication, it is not evident that follow-up action has been taken.

At that time, NASA again disputed the allegations.

“NASA astronauts, including Serena Auñón-Chancellor, are highly respected, serve their country and make invaluable contributions to the agency,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations. Kathy Leuders wrote in a mail shared with

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed Leuders’ sentiment in a mail shared with X on August 13, 2021, writing: “I totally agree with Kathy’s statement. “I fully support Serena and will always support our astronauts.”

“All International Space Station partners are dedicated to the safety of the mission and the well-being of the crew. “All International Space Station partners participate in multiple reviews prior to each major station activity to evaluate and ensure the safety of all crew members,” he wrote. Brian OdomNASA chief historian, in an email to Snopes, adding:

The hole that was detected in late August 2018 by the space station crew was quickly sealed, reestablishing airtight pressure on the station. Russian cosmonauts conducted a spacewalk in December to collect additional engineering data for Russian specialists on Earth and to externally observe the effectiveness of internal repair. The Soyuz spacecraft was thoroughly reviewed and deemed safe for the crew to return to Earth, which they did on December 20, 2018. Our NASA crew members conduct their missions with professionalism and integrity.

As of January 2024, it is still unclear who or what caused the hole, although many experts accept which was probably due to a manufacturing defect.


August 2018 – Space Station. August 31, 2018,

https://Twitter.Com/KathyLueders/Status/1426250198855081985.” X (formerly Twitter), Accessed January 10, 2024.

https://Twitter.Com/SenBillNelson/Status/1426251539035955200.” X (formerly Twitter), Accessed January 10, 2024.

https://Twitter.Com/Tractor_owner/Status/1731431869781020915”. X (formerly Twitter), Accessed January 10, 2024.

Kathy Lueders, Associate Administrator for Space Operations – NASA. Accessed January 10, 2024.

NASA History Office – NASA. Accessed January 10, 2024.

Statement from NASA and Roscosmos on the leak at the International Space Station – NASA. Accessed January 10, 2024.

Soyuz MS-09 rocket launches – NASA. Accessed January 10, 2024.

Posted on the wall, Mike. “Hole that caused leak in Russian spacecraft possibly traced to assembly or testing: report”. Space.ComSeptember 6, 2018,

Новости, Р. И. a. м.” РИА Новости20211126T1033, Accessed January 10, 2024. Accessed January 10, 2024.

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