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Patching space leak
Space station crew members work to patch up a small hole in the inner hull of a Soyuz spacecraft on Aug. 30. (NASA / Roscosmos via @NASASpaceflight / Twitter)

NASA and Russia’s space agency issued a joint statement today aimed at quashing viral claims that someone on the International Space Station’s crew sabotaged a Soyuz capsule by drilling a hole in orbit and creating an air leak.

The statement came two weeks after the crew discovered and patched the hole — and 10 days after Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of in-space sabotage.

Rogozin’s mention of sabotage, supplemented by comments from unnamed Russian sources, boosted a conspiracy theory claiming that NASA spacefliers may have intentionally drilled the hole. Those rumblings drew a sharp rebuke this week from NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who’s currently serving as the station’s commander.

“I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing to do with this on orbit, without a doubt,” Feustel told ABC News in a space-to-ground interview. “And I think it’s actually a shame and somewhat embarrassing that anybody is wasting any time talking about something that the crew was involved in.”

Today’s statement from the space agencies wasn’t as direct, but clearly stated that the crew members — three NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and a German astronaut representing the European Space Agency — were not suspects.

The statement said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had his first-ever teleconference with Rogozin on Tuesday, at Roscosmos’ request, to discuss the space station’s status. “They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success,” the statement said.

Bridenstine and Rogozine agreed to have their first face-to-face meeting next month when NASA’s chief travels to Russia and Kazakhstan in connection with the launch of two new space station crew members. Meanwhile, Russian officials will be in charge of a new commission tasked with investigating the Soyuz leak and its cause.

The unsubstantiated rumors about in-space sabotage threatened to cast a pall over the U.S.-Russian relationship in space station operations, which has been far more cordial than the relationship in other policy spheres.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted unnamed sources as saying Roscosmos was considering the possibility that NASA astronauts might have drilled the hole as a ruse to get a sick crewmate sent back to Earth. Today Russian news media quoted Rogozin as saying on his Facebook page that such rumors “hinder the work of Roscosmos experts and are designed to subvert the friendly relations among the crew members of the space station.”

Here’s today’s full statement:

“NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin met for the first time yesterday via teleconference to discuss the status of International Space Station (ISS) operations in response to a request from Roscosmos.

“As part of their discussion, Dmitry Rogozin informed his American counterpart about Roscosmos’ decision to establish a Roscosmos-led Commission to investigate the cause of the leak in the Soyuz (MS-09/55S) spacecraft currently docked to the station.

“The Administrator and the General Director noted speculations circulating in the media regarding the possible cause of the incident and agreed on deferring any preliminary conclusions and providing any explanations until the final investigation has been completed.

“They affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating the cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation. They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success.

“The Administrator and the Roscosmos General Director agreed to conduct their first face-to-face meeting at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on or about Oct. 10 when the NASA Administrator will visit Russia and Kazakhstan in conjunction with the upcoming Soyuz crew spacecraft launch of American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexy Ovchinin.”

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