In a space station about 250 miles above Earth, astronauts suddenly find their lives in danger when one of them goes mad silently and begins to secretly drill small holes in the walls of his fragile vessel.
The precious oxygen seeps into the surrounding abyss without being detected, slowly the internal pressure begins to diminish as the crew takes care of their affairs, oblivious to their potential destiny, and then …
Yes, it sounds like the plot of a science fiction movie B, but according to the Russian space authorities, this is one of the possible scenarios that are being developed at this moment.
The Soyuz spacecraft MS-08 is mounted on the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome rented in Russia in Kazakhstan. Now it's on a space station about 250 miles above the ground
NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel (left), Richard Arnold (right) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev (center) pose for photos as they attend the final training for their next space mission in Star City, just outside of Moscow
The Soyuz MS-08 (pictured) left Earth on March 21 to transport three members of the Expedition 55 crew to the International Space Station.
They claim that a 2mm hole detected in the body of a Russian Soyuz MS module docked on the International Space Station (ISS) could have been deliberately drilled, and they do not rule out the possibility that one of the astronauts is the author.
The ISS, with its huge solar panels that span the size of a soccer field, is the largest single structure that humans have put in space and was largely assembled in orbit between 1998 and 2011.
But with accommodation for up to six astronauts, it's not a place to be locked in with a mentally unstable crew member who may be determined to kill / commit suicide while orbiting Earth at 17,050 mph (about five miles per second). .
Within its claustrophobic confines, the crew members, two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts and a German from the European Space Agency, must now be watching each of their movements.
A 2mm hole detected in the body of the Russian Soyuz MS module (above) could have been deliberately punctured, Russian space authorities have said
According to the Russian space authorities, oxygen has leaked from the spacecraft (above) and into the surrounding abyss without being detected, causing the pressure inside to fall.
The alarm was raised for the first time last week, when mission controllers in Houston and Moscow noticed a drop in cabin pressure at the ISS. Astronauts in charge of finding the cause discovered the hole in the Russian module currently connected to it.
If the hole had not been found, the astronauts would have run out of air in 18 days. Fortunately, it was small enough to be repaired with special sealing tape.
Initially, the impact of space debris or a small meteorite, manufacturing failure or structural fatigue was blamed.
But after an investigation led by Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, a more sinister cause arose: deliberate sabotage, quite possibly by a crew member.
The evidence in this orbital novel would be from a novel by Agatha Christie of the space age.
WHAT IS THE SPACECRAFT SOYUZ OF RUSSIA?
Soyuz is a Russian spacecraft that transports astronauts and supplies to and from the International Space Station (ISS), in addition to bringing people to Earth.
It is composed of a rocket that takes a capsule into space. After launch, the capsule and rocket separate, and the rocket returns to Earth and the capsule continues.
The capsule has space for three passengers and acts as a lifeboat for the ISS, with at least one Soyuz capsule always connected to the space station.
Each capsule has three parts, called modules. The crew members spend their time in orbit in the orbital module, which is about the size of a large van.
A Russian-American crew was launched to the ISS from Kazakhstan on board a Soyuz rocket on March 21
The descent module is used by astronauts when they approach the ISS or when they return to Earth. A third module houses life support systems and instruments, including batteries, solar panels and steering motors.
Soyuz is launched from Kazakhstan, the neighbor of southern Russia, and it takes only six hours to reach the space station. The crew uses the hatch on the Soyuz to enter and exit the station. When the crew is ready to return home, they travel in the Soyuz capsule back to Earth.
To land, Soyuz falls through the Earth's atmosphere and deploys parachutes that slow down its descent. When Soyuz approaches the ground, it fires small rocket motors to further reduce its momentum.
First, the hole does not seem accidental. "There were several attempts at drilling," Rogozin said this week, adding that the drill appeared to have been held up by a "shaky hand." Since then it has been confirmed that the ISS has a drill on board that is capable of making the hole.
Then we have the weapon, the act and the opportunity. But, and the reason? It seems inconceivable that someone who has achieved the qualification of an astronaut-when passing the psychological and physical tests-think of such an atrocious act of destruction.
However, a growing body of research is discovering that even the most psychologically robust brains can break amidst the rigors of space.
It is not only the pressures of physical confinement and danger that torment the astronauts' psyche. Even more disturbing is the damage that microgravity and cosmic radiation can cause in human gray matter and the pathological behaviors that this can cause.
President Vladimir Putin, in the photo, has supervised the takeoff of many Russian spacecraft
In fact, considering that more than 230 astronauts have spent up to 15 months in the station, it is surprising that there have been no reports of psychological failures.
The ISS offers many opportunities for scientific research, not just the way the human mind and body change in space to help space agencies prepare for future missions to the Moon, Mars or beyond.
Astronauts have shown evidence of potentially disabling changes in their muscles, bones, hearts and eyes after long periods in space, while a study supported by NASA by scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York has warned that brain damage Radiation can affect emotions.
Writing in the journal Experimental Neurology, they said that prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation attacks stem cells in the part of the brain responsible for controlling mood and emotions. Brain damage gets worse the deeper you venture into space.
Other studies have found evidence of mental interference and hallucinations caused by space radiation.
During a mission in 2012 on the International Space Station, astronaut Don Pettit described being chased by & # 39; flashes & # 39 ;. . . as fairy luminous dancers & # 39; The tests showed that they were caused by cosmic rays & # 39; zapping & # 39; through the nerves in the eyes and the brain.
The physical damage of cosmic radiation can also cause alterations similar to dementia, according to studies in animals.
Dozens of officials watched as the huge rocket rose gradually into position. Last week, mission controllers in Houston and Moscow noticed a drop in cabin pressure at the ISS. The astronauts then discovered the hole in the Russian module currently connected to it
In 2015, radiation experts at the University of California, Irvine, bombarded laboratory rats with cosmic radiation levels and discovered that the brain tissue was severely inflamed. This communication compromised between brain cells in a manner similar to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease.
If you add to this the psychological tension of being locked up with several others in deep space for months, then it's not a happy boat.
A Russian cosmonaut aboard the MIR space station (which ran from 1986 to 2001) recorded that interpersonal conflicts occupied 30 percent of the crew's time.
In a 110-day space travel simulation in 1999, two Russian volunteers had such a violent fight that it literally left blood on the walls. Fortunately, his capsule never left Earth and scientists were able to gain access to separate them.
During the American Skylab 4 mission in 1973, disagreements and exhaustion caused the crew to disconnect their radio link and spend a day ignoring NASA while orbiting the Earth, giving two fingers (at least figuratively) through the window.
So, could similar emotional and psychological problems be triggering irrational behavior on the part of a crew member on board the ISS? Or, as some Russian authorities maintain, the hole was the result of damage during the tests at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan before the module left Earth.
The rogue engineers could have tried to hide the problem. "Someone may have been wrong and then it got scared and sealed the hole," a space industry source has speculated, and then the sealant "dried up and fell" when the Soyuz arrived at the ISS.
This sounds like the bodice work of cowboy builders, rather than the leading space technologists.
Interestingly, however, the drilling is in a section of the Soyuz module discarded in orbit and not used to take the crew to Earth.
If it was deliberately caused, the perpetrator may have despaired of leaving the space station and therefore decided to inflict damage to force an emergency evacuation, but not in a way that would prevent a safe return to Earth.
In fact, Maxim Surayev, a Russian parliamentarian and former cosmonaut, has suggested exactly that scenario.
"We are all human and anyone may want to go home, but this method is really low," said Surayev, who spent two tours of the ISS. "I wish to God that this is a production defect, although that is also very sad, if a cosmonaut took out this strange trick, it is really bad".
Whatever the cause, it will be some time before it is definitively identified. The Russian authorities have established a commission that seeks to identify the culprit by name, calling it a "matter of honor" for Energiya, the company that makes the Soyuz.
Meanwhile, look up and pity the six astronauts who are possibly trapped together in a network of suspicions.
At night, the ISS is visible to the naked eye, as it rotates around the Earth once every 90 minutes. It reminds me of an adage of old aviators, which is often recited when you see a flying partner in trouble: "Thank God you're here looking up, instead of looking down here up."