The long history of air leak because of a hole in the International Space Station seems to have come to an end. A happy ending, because no one has been hurt or sick, but most bizarre, due to the mechanisms that have been necessary to find it.

The astronauts were aware that something was happening on board in September 2019. The gradual loss of air in the facilities is something normal, which is solved with several teams of oxygen supply. This time it seemed that the leak was stronger than usual, but not enough to cause concern. However, it did start to be this summer, when it suddenly became more intense. Thus began the search for the origin of the problem.

The crew members of the ISS were sealing one by one the different rooms that make up the station, while they were secluded in the Star module, located on the Russian side. Once this scan was finished, they continued as before, so the hole was most likely in one of the two areas that had not been sealed. These were the Module 2 of Poisk Mini-Research, used to dock ships and for astronauts’ preparation before spacewalks, and Zvezda himself, in which they had remained “locked in” during the inspection. Finally it was known that it was precisely in the latter where the hole was, but they did not find the exact point. It took a few more weeks to finally shelve the mystery. That and a few tea bags.

Tea bags to find the hole in the International Space Station

The hole in the International Space Station became a serious problem when the air leak became much more apparent. But especially when one of the oxygen supply the Russian side began to fail. These were independent breakdowns, but one could make the consequences of the other much more serious.

Therefore, the crew members who are currently at the facilities decided to carry out a peculiar maneuver. If they only sealed the Zvezda module, as they had done in the others, they would verify that the fault was there, but they could not see the exact point. That’s why, just before closing the gates they released a handful of tea bags.

With everything closed, they began to float because of microgravity, guided to the same point, like children and rats behind the Pied Piper of Hammelin. All this was captured by a series of cameras, in which it was possible to see where the bags were going, before the gates were reopened and the astronauts and cosmonauts entered the module.

That exact place was the hole through which the air had been escaping since the end of 2019. Once located, it was closed with the help of love Kapton, capable of remaining stable at very varied temperatures, including close to absolute zero.

However, as they have explained since RoscosmosThis is only a temporary solution, as a protocol is currently being developed to permanently seal this hole on the International Space Station.
The story is finally over, or so it seems, because it will still be necessary to check if the problem ends after this sealing. If so, it will be curious to remember that that problem, which kept two of the most powerful space agencies on the planet in suspense for more than a year, was solved thanks to a handful of tea bags.