The rate of air loss aboard the International Space Station has "slightly increased," NASA says, and the three men living aboard the station have to figure out why.
NASA
  • 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 currently within normal operating limits.
  • However, due to the new increase, two cosmonauts and an astronaut living aboard the ISS 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, a football field-size laboratory, is not perfectly sealed, and is always leaking a bit of air. 

But now, that rate of air loss has "slightly increased," NASA says, 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 are now "working a plan to isolate, identify, and potentially repair the source." Vitally, 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 ISS in April — and can whisk them back to Earth in the event of an emergency — is attached to the Russian module.

To find the source of the leak, which RIA Novosti, a state-controlled media outlet in Russia, first reported on Thursday, 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."

Thursday's report of a leak follows an incident in 2018, in which a small drill hole was found in the wall of a Soyuz ship. Cosmonauts found the source of the leak by spacewalking outside the ISS and cutting through the spaceship's insulation with a knife. The affected part was an interface between the Soyuz and the larger laboratory, so it was patched with epoxy. After a crew left inside the spaceship, the patched part went with it and didn't cause further trouble.

The Zvezda service module was the first liveable piece of the ISS, launched nearly 20 years ago, so NASA said the crew "will have plenty of room" for their surprise weekend stay inside of it.

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