The International Space Station, home to an international contingent of astronauts conducting research 250 miles above the Earth, looks like an indestructible fortress above our pale blue dot. But the ISS isn't immune to structural issues, including those of an extremely simple variety. On Thursday, a hole was discovered in the ISS, causing it to seep air out into space.
In order to plug the hole, however, astronauts offered an unconventional solution: using Russian astronaut Alexander Gerst's thumb as a stopgap.
Mission control monitors in Houston and Moscow noticed an usual drop in the ISS's pressure on Wednesday evening, reports The Telegraph. The culprit for the leak was tentatively blamed on a micrometeorite or space junk -- excess debris from long since obsolete satellites and other scientific instruments floating through the cosmos. The impact created a pretty tiny 0.08-inch gash in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, attached to the Russian wing of the ISS.
In the absence of better tools, Gerst improvised with his digits. That was just a temporary fix, however, as a NASA blogpost explains:
"Flight controllers at their respective Mission Control centers in Houston and Moscow worked together with the crew to effect a repair option in which Soyuz commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos used epoxy on a gauze wipe to plug the hole identified as the leak source."
Mission control technicians told the astronauts to leave the epoxy and gauze wipe solution in place overnight, per the Telegraph's report, and also replenished the oxygen supply using air from a Russian cargo capsule.
Despite tending to a small fissure in the ISS with gauze and adhesive as you might care for a flesh wound, NASA assures no astronauts were ever in harm's way.
"Throughout the day, the crew was never in any danger, and was told no further action was contemplated for the remainder of the day," the space agency said. "Flight controllers will monitor the pressure trends overnight."
Thank god for the opposable thumb.