Watch Russian cosmonauts spacewalk to check out hole in Soyuz capsule

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"It should be somewhere here", Mr Kononenko says at the height of the six-hour operation.

The crew aboard the space station has, since the leak was discovered and repaired, conducted frequent leak detection work and pressure measurements to make sure that the leak stayed sealed and the pressure on the space station remained normal.

"That is exactly the hole we've been looking for, guys", radioed Russian Mission Control outside Moscow.

Two Russian cosmonauts took a spacewalk on Tuesday seeking to resolve the mystery of a small hole found in the side of a craft docked at the International Space Station. The astronauts collected samples of the black epoxy sealant protruding from the hole, just one-tenth of an inch (2 millimeters) across. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing - or in orbit.

"The active participation of worldwide partners, primarily NASA, in the investigation is not expected, although we have called for a joint investigation and been ready to provide available materials: photos, videos, documents, samples of materials taken during the spacewalk", the source said. Officials said the crew - three USA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and one German - were never in danger.

During the an nearly eight-hour spacewalk, veteran cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev struggled, but eventually succeeded, in cutting away the insulation covering the hole and taking out a sample to analyse.

If the hole was indeed sabotage, it's unclear where it would have been done while the module was in space or while it was being constructed back planetside.

The two cosmonauts worked on the exterior of the Russian Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, where the space station's crew had earlier found and repaired the leak from the inside.

Russian officials later denied those reports.

The spacewalk was the fourth for Kononenko and the second for Prokopyev.

The two cosmonauts then used the same tools to cut into and peel away a thin metal orbital debris shield to expose the hole in the Soyuz MS-09's orbital compartment.

A space industry source told Russia's Tass state news agency that the spacecraft could have been damaged during testing at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The hole is in a section that will not be used for the return journey to Earth on December 20.