Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Spacewalk bid to fix station leak

The six-member crew noticed white flakes of ammonia leaking out of the space station (Nasa)
The six-member crew noticed white flakes of ammonia leaking out of the space station (Nasa)

Two astronauts will make a hastily-planned spacewalk to try to fix an ammonia leak in the International Space Station's power system.

Officials emphasised that the six-member crew was not in danger.

The leak in a cooling system was discovered on Thursday when "snowflakes" of ammonia were seen flying away from the station.

Spacewalks are rarely done on such short notice, but the US space agency wanted to check out the leak before all the ammonia escaped. They also want to take advantage of a spacewalking crew member who is about to return home.

Officials said the space station had plenty of power, even though the leak forced Nasa to shut off the power channel from one of eight solar panels that supply electricity.

The station can operate fine with only seven electrical channels, space station programme manager Michael Suffredini said. Power from the affected panel was rerouted to the other seven systems.

Mr Suffredini said the chief suspect for the leak was space junk hitting a cooling tube, but the area had a slow small leak for many years that suddenly accelerated on Thursday. "You're talking a very, very, very small hole," he said at a news conference.

While he described it as a "serious situation", he characterised it more as an annoyance.

Nasa hopes the leak is in a small pump box. During the six-hour spacewalk, US astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn will replace the 260lb box with a nearby spare.

While Nasa has had to do impromptu spacewalks before, the have not been done on the space station since it was completely built and operating as a finished lab, said chief flight director Norm Knight.

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