Katya Pavlushchenko (@katlinegrey)'s tweet says:

Here’s some of today’s news from the ISS. First of all, the leak was finally found (thanks to the tea bag). Anatoly Ivanishin sent photos to the Mission Control Center, which shows how the tea leaves accumulated around what he believed was a scratch.


Per this answer I understand that something like duct tape was used during the mitigation and/or repair of the Soyuz MS-09 leak at the ISS in 2018, but tea bags?

Chris Hadfield's 2018 tweet

When your spaceship suddenly starts leaking air, you fix the hole with duct tape & a gob of epoxy. Nice save, @Space_Station crew!

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    $\begingroup$ I guess the theory is to float particles in the air and wait for the flow into drive them to the leaking point. Ground tea leaves seems to be an OK choice if they don't have any other specialized material. Same thing as in a ship or submarine you use milk to mark waterflow. $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2020 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ To be honest I was more surprised they have tea bags and not condensed or powdered tea. Which country has such high standards for fresh tea that went ahead and designed a space tea pot? Not the Chinese for sure. $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2020 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @user3528438 It's actually called the ISSpresso, by Lavazzo, and it's capable of making espresso, tea, and broth. It was sent up in 2015 by, rather predictably, the Italian Space Agency. Clearly, you can go to orbit, but going without good espresso is unthinkable. I believe the coffee grounds or tea leaves are normally kept in those little sealed mylar packets similar to a Kcup or the thingies a Mars Flavia uses, so they likely had to cut open one of those packets to get at the dry tea leaves. $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2020 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @user3528438 At this point I'm completely sure if not for the ISSpresso, Russians would have designed and sent a space samovar. Just to give you a clue, on all long distance trains (which are the vast majority of trains in Russia) there's a samovar for the passengers in every single train car. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Oct 19, 2020 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ @SF The samovar on the ISS has existed from the very beginning. space.stackexchange.com/questions/40483/… $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Oct 19, 2020 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


Media reports about the discovery of an air leak on the ISS using a tea bag is rubbish, according to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. In an interview with Gazeta.Ru, he said that the journalists had misinterpreted the negotiations between the Russian station crew and the MCC specialists.

“This is rubbish. Nothing was found with any tea bags. Here, of course, they went too far. This is the nonsense that our media broadcast. About the nonsense can only be regretted. Ivanishin told about a different story. He spoke the language that all specialists understand him. Someone, somewhere, heard something wrong, and then fables began to spread, ”Vinogradov said.

Translated from:

Сообщения об обнаружении утечки воздуха на МКС с помощью чайного пакетика – это белиберда, считает российский космонавт Павел Виноградов. В беседе с «Газетой.Ru» он заявил, что журналисты неправильно интерпретировали переговоры российского экипажа станции со специалистами ЦУПа.

«Это белиберда. Никакими чайными пакетиками ничего не обнаруживали. Тут, конечно, перегнули. Это глупость, которую транслируют наши СМИ. О ней можно только сожалеть. Иванишин рассказывал о другой истории. Он говорил на том языке, на котором его понимают все специалисты. Кто-то где-то не так услышал, и вот пошли небылицы», — сказал Виноградов.


P.S. I found the full quote and it is contradictory:

Phrase # 1 that the contents of the tea bag were scattered in the Zvezda module.

"Мы думаем, мы действительно идентифицировали вероятное место утечки. Мы распределили пакетик чая (в модуле "Звезда" - прим. ТАСС) перед закрытием переходной камеры", - сказал Анатолий Иванишин.

Phrase # 2 that a [plastic] bag of tea flew like a "balloon blown by the wind".

"У нас есть несколько фото и видео направления, в котором полетел пакетик с чаем или куда намеревался полететь, что как раз показывает, в каком направлении дует воздух из возможного места утечки", - уточнил космонавт.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer! It sounds like someone simply used an analogy during a discussion, and no actual tea bags were harmed in the making of this news story? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 18, 2020 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ @ikrase Alas. There is no original audio recording of the negotiations between the cosmonauts and the Mission Control Center. $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Oct 18, 2020 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ Damn, so we can't add "reading the tea leaves" to the superstitions in space question.... $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Oct 18, 2020 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I was able to find that this dialogue was broadcast by NASA. If there are archives of these records somewhere, then it is possible to try to find this dialog. $\endgroup$
    – A. Rumlin
    Oct 18, 2020 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ links to TASS which seems to say that it was the whole bag: Russian cosmonauts trace air leak aboard orbital outpost with tea bag; The tea bag’s sway in zero gravity conditions towards the air leak was registered by cameras $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 20, 2020 at 11:44

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