Recently, Russian news service TASS, which has the support of the Russian government, posted some pretty defamatory new claims about NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor. TASS accused Auñón-Chancellor of having an emotional breakdown aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and causing damages to a Russian spacecraft so that she could return to Earth early.
NASA was quick to respond with statements showing support for their astronaut.
Kathy Lueders, chief of human spaceflight for NASA, tweeted: “NASA astronauts, including Serena Aunon-Chancellor, are extremely well-respected, serve their country and make invaluable contributions to the agency. We stand behind Serena and her professional conduct. We do not believe there is any credibility to these accusations.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson then tweeted: “I whole-heartedly agree with Kathy’s statement. I fully support Serena and I will always stand behind our astronauts.”
However, a statement offered by NASA to Ars indicates that there may be more to the story. The statement read: “To protect their privacy, the agency will not discuss medical information regarding crew members.”
This could indicate that Auñón-Chancellor did indeed have a breakdown, one that NASA does not want to share with the public. But was she responsible for the ISS damages?
Rumors have circulated for a long time in Russian media outlets that state that U.S. astronauts were responsible for the hole in a Soyuz spacecraft that caused the space station leak in 2018. But NASA has continued to state that these claims were simply nonsense.
A source told Ars that NASA was briefed when the leak was made and was able to immediately notice pressures falling on the space station. NASA then tracked the precise locations of the U.S. astronauts at the time of the leak and found that none of them were near the Russian segment where the Soyuz vehicle was docked. Russian officials however were not satisfied with this explanation.
What is really going on here? It’s hard to tell.