When an alarm sounds in your office building you’ll probably just end up standing around in the parking lot for a few minutes while someone figures out which fire alarm got “accidentally” pulled. But when an alarm rings out on the International Space Station, things are obviously a bit more serious.
Today, NASA astronauts are working on repairing the damage caused by a small meteorite which is thought to have struck the station this week, causing an oxygen leak and sparking alarms to sound aboard the ship. Yikes!
“Overnight and in the morning there was an abnormal situation—a pressure drop, an oxygen leak at the station,” Dmitry Rogozin of Russian space agency Roscosmos told reporters. “A micro fracture was found, most likely it is damage from the outside. The design engineers believe it is the result of a micrometeorite.”
The meteorite obviously wasn’t large, and the crew was never in any real danger — unless you consider the fact that they’r orbiting Earth in a flimsy laboratory and being pelted by space rocks “dangerous” — but it’s obviously a problem that requires immediate attention.
When aboard the space station, the crew doesn’t wear any kind of protective gear that would save them if something were to go catastrophically wrong. The space station is heated and pressurized with an air mixture so that the astronauts can breathe normally, and it requires an airtight seal to ensure that the air can be continuously recycled.
A hole that is spewing oxygen out into space is bad news, but it would appear the damage was indeed minor. The crew of the space station is currently in the process of patching up the hole and ensuring that the leak has been stopped. According to a statement from the European Space Agency, the crew still has “weeks of air left in the International Space Station reserves,” so there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about.