The head of Russia's space agency has suggested that the tiny hole discovered in the International Space Station (ISS) was made deliberately, citing an expert commission investigating the issue.
Dmitry Rogozin's remarks, made in an interview broadcast on October 1, deepened the mystery behind the hole that caused a small, brief drop in oxygen levels in the orbiting station in late August.
With space exploration being one of the few remaining areas where Moscow and Washington continue to cooperate, Russian and U.S. officials have sought to downplay any suspicions about the ISS incident.
However, at least one Russian newspaper quoted anonymous Russian officials as suggesting an American astronaut was to blame.
Rogozin, who heads the Russian space agency Roskosmos, said in an interview on state-run television that an expert commission had wrapped up its initial findings.
"The first commission has already concluded its work. It has factually reached the conclusion that rules out any manufacturing defect, which is important for finding out the truth," he said.
"The version that now remains is it was a deliberate act, and a second commission will determine where this occurred," Rogozin added.
NASA officials have said they are waiting for a final report from their Russian counterparts before making any conclusions.
Last month, the current ISS commander, American Drew Feustel, pointedly pushed back against the insinuation that any of the crew was responsible.
In his interview, Rogozin also said there were problems in the relationship between Roskosmos and NASA -- something he blamed on anti-Russian sentiment.
"Problems with NASA, of course, have appeared, but not through the fault of NASA, but through the fault of those American circles outside of NASA," he said.
Rogozin said people he knows at the U.S. space agency had told him they are under pressure from what he called "rabid Russophobes."
The Roskosmos chief asserted that if U.S.-Russian cooperation ended, it would be problematic for NASA.
Following the grounding of the U.S. space-shuttle fleet, Russian rockets became the only way to get equipment and personnel to the ISS.
On other issues, Rogozin said Roskosmos was exploring building a joint research station on the Moon with China.