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The ISS has sprung another leak, NASA says

Published Aug 21st, 2020 6:26PM EDT
iss leaking
Image: NASA
  • An increased amount of atmosphere loss in the International Space Station has prompted astronauts to go into lockdown in one half of the station while they search for the source.
  • The leak doesn’t pose a danger to the residents aboard the ISS, NASA says.
  • The various ISS modules will be sealed off while NASA measures the pressure in each area to pinpoint the source of the leak.

When you’re living in a huge laboratory that orbits Earth at a speed of roughly five miles per second, ensuring that it doesn’t leak your breathable air into the vacuum of space is a high priority. Unfortunately, something seems to be amiss right now with the International Space Station, and the crew and their support teams on the ground are going to spend the weekend trying to figure out what’s wrong.

As NASA explains in a new blog post, an unexpected leak seems to have reared its ugly head, and they’re not quite sure which area of the large laboratory it is located in. So, in order to help narrow things down, the ISS is going into a sort of lockdown mode, with the crew isolated to one segment of the ISS while the various other modules are sealed shut.

NASA says the crew is not in danger, and that the ISS routinely loses a little bit of atmosphere over time, but that increased venting was detected so they’ll have to check it out.

The easiest way to figure out which area of the space station is leaking is to separate them and then monitor the atmospheric pressure in each one. “All the space station hatches will be closed this weekend so mission controllers can carefully monitor the air pressure in each module,” NASA explains. “The test presents no safety concern for the crew. The test should determine which module is experiencing a higher-than-normal leak rate.”

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s not the first time the ISS sprung an unexpected leak. It was roughly two years ago that a leak was detected at the International Space Station. At that time, the leak was found to be the result of a hole that had been drilled in a Soyuz spacecraft that was attached to the ISS. The hole was present before the spacecraft left for Earth, but had been haphazardly sealed with adhesive. Eventually, that adhesive broke free and the hole began venting atmosphere into space.

After a bit of finger-pointing, Russia launched an investigation into how the hole appeared, and how it was missed when inspectors scoured the spacecraft prior to launch. Russia said that it figured out what happened, but the details of how the hole appeared, who drilled it, and what consequences that person faced remain shrouded in mystery.

In any case, this weekend’s tests should help to reveal where this new leak is happening and give the crew some peace of mind and an opportunity to correct whatever might be wrong.