- The International Space Station is experiencing a “slightly increased” leakage of air, NASA said Thursday.
- NASA said the leak “presents no immediate danger to the crew or the space station” and is within normal operating limits.
- However, because of the new increase, two cosmonauts and an astronaut living aboard the space station will spend this weekend inside a Russian module to help locate the source.
- The crew has a Soyuz spaceship in the event an urgent escape is required, though that is unlikely.
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The International Space Station, an orbiting laboratory the size of a football field, is not perfectly sealed and always leaking a bit of air.
But now that rate of air loss has “slightly increased,” NASA said, and the three men living aboard the station have to hunker down while mission controllers on Earth figure out where the problem is – and how to fix it.
In a blog post, NASA said the American and Russian space agencies were “working a plan to isolate, identify, and potentially repair the source.” NASA added: “The leak is still within segment specifications and presents no immediate danger to the crew or the space station.”
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and his Roscosmos crew mates Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin will spend the weekend huddled inside the station’s Zvezda service module.
The Soyuz MS-16 spaceship, which the three-person crew rode to the space station in April and can whisk them back to Earth in the event of an emergency, is attached to a small laboratory near the Russian module.
‘Going to be a busy weekend for us’
The Russian state-controlled media outlet RIA Novosti first reported the problem on Thursday, saying a source described it as “a small air leak.” To find the source of the leak, astronauts and mission controllers plan to shut all of the space station’s hatches by Friday and monitor the air pressure of each through Monday.
“The test presents no safety concern for the crew. The test should determine which module is experiencing a higher-than-normal leak rate,” NASA said. “The US and Russian specialists expect preliminary results should be available for review by the end of next week.”
Josh Matthew, who manages NASA flight controllers responsible for the space station’s environmental and thermal operating systems,tweeted Thursday night that his team did “awesome work” to assemble the plan.
“Going to be a busy weekend for us. Looking forward to finding and repairing the source, so we can quit planning such frequent repressurizations. I’ll also take this any day over the Soyuz leak we worked two years ago,” he said.
“Everyone is interested in finding it before the next [SpaceX] mission brings more people,” Matthew added, referring to the Crew-1 mission that’s currently scheduled to launch on or after October 23 with NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Not the first surprise air leak on the ISS
Thursday’s report of a leak follows an incident in August 2018, in which a small drill 2-millimetre dril hole was found in part of a Russian spaceship called Soyuz MS-09.
The affected part was an orbital module, which connects the Soyuz to the larger laboratory, and the ISS crew successfully sealed the hole in it by patching it with epoxy.
Before the spaceship left the ISS with its crew, two cosmonauts studied the hole in the orbital module (which is discarded before return to Earth) by putting on spacesuits and clamoring outside the space station. They cut through the spaceship’s insulation with a knife to get clear pictures of the damage, and Roscosmos later determined to be a painted-over manufacturing defect.
The Zvezda service module was the first livable piece of the space station, launched nearly 20 years ago, so NASA said the crew “will have plenty of room” for their surprise weekend stay inside it.
This story has been updated with new information.