The International Space Station in happier times. (Photo: Getty Images)

Will it turn into a case for the Space Force?

 

Russians are spreading a conspiracy theory that a leak discovered aboard the International Space Station was purposely created by American astronauts.

 

Ars Technica reports that the story has "spread like wildfire" in Russia this week.

 

In reality: A low-pressure leak was detected in the ISS in late August. It was attributed to a manufacturing defect in the orbital module of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that arrived at the station in June. When the flaw was reported, the head of Russia's space program had a meltdown in the press, calling for whoever was responsible to lose their job. (And this being Russia, who knows what else.)

 

In Russia's intergalactic version of QAnon: Russian media is reporting that American astronauts damaged the craft intentionally to allow a sick astronaut to leave the station. Policy dictates that a Soyuz can't depart without a full crew of three astronauts and cosmonauts. If it did, NASA would have to pay Russia $85 million for a new Soyuz.

 

So, the conspiracy theory goes, to force the departure but save $85 mil, American astronauts punctured the orbital module. (A benign move, since the module detaches before re-entry.) Russian media outlets are quoting "sources" that say "drill marks" were found around the leak site.

A special commission has purportedly gathered to investigate; they plan to get American surveillance video from the station and information about crew members' health, although they expect to be foiled by patient confidentiality.

The ISS commander, Drew Feustel of NASA, has denied the story. NASA proper deems it too crazy to justify with official comment.

"The theory of a NASA astronaut or anyone on board the station taking out a drill to puncture the atmosphere of the orbiting laboratory is ridiculous," writes Ars Technica's space expert Eric Berger. "This seems to be some kind of play by Rogozin to deflect public attention (and that of his boss, Vladimir Putin) away from the fact that Russia's space manufacturing program isn't what it once was."