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Why can’t NASA find the source of the ISS air leak?

Published Sep 25th, 2020 7:06PM EDT
iss leak
Image: NASA

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  • NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos still haven’t figured out where the International Space Station is leaking.
  • It’s possible the leak is present in one of the modules where the crew took refuge while the rest of the spacecraft was being monitored for the leak.
  • The leak is minor and NASA says it doesn’t pose a risk to the crew. 

Hey, so, remember back in August when the astronauts aboard the ISS were confined to the Russian segment of the spacecraft because it was leaking air? The idea was to monitor the pressures in the sealed modules so that NASA could isolate the problem. A week after that took place, NASA was seemingly no closer to finding the source of the leak.

Now, over a month later, NASA is still trying to find which part of the space station is leaking air into space. It’s not a big leak, so it’s not an emergency, but it sure would be nice to know where the hole is so that it can be repaired.

As Business Insider reports, NASA has seemingly narrowed down the possible locations of the leak. Since the leak wasn’t discovered during the isolation periods where the crew was confined to certain areas so that the other areas could be monitored, it’s likely that the leak is in one of the areas where the crew was taking refuge. At least that’s the theory.

In August, the crew spent a weekend on the Russian side of the spacecraft, sealed up in the Zvezda Service Module while the rest of the space station was monitored for above-average air leakage. It’s possible, then, that the module they were staying in is indeed the one where the leak is present, though NASA still doesn’t know for sure.

The issue right now is that the space station still has to be a functioning laboratory. Shutting things down and isolating the crew to find the leak is something that has to be planned well in advance, as various experiments are always underway and preparations have to be made. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple matter of telling the crew to hole up in one section of the ship for a few days.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Russian modules that may have the leak include the life support systems for that side of the spacecraft as well as the ports where supply missions and crew transfers take place. Right now, NASA is working with its colleagues on the Russian side of things to plan a suitable time when they can test for the leak.

In any case, NASA is adamant that the leak does not pose a threat to the crew. The space station leaks air all the time, though it’s in such small amounts it never causes a problem. This slightly above-average rate of leaking isn’t the end of the world, and NASA and Roscosmos should be able to hunt down the source sooner rather than later.