Washington / Moscow – It’s snowing in orbit, at least a little: In small, white flakes ammonia escapes from the cooling system of a solar module of the International Space Station (ISS). The U.S. space agency Nasa has the glitch obviously for so severe that she has two astronauts now prescribed an ad hoc outdoor use – which happens very rarely
“We send two crew members in fabric and rubber pressure suits through the airlock,” the Canadian ISS Commander Chris Hadfield wrote on Twitter. His U.S. colleague Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn began their outdoor use, according to the NASA 14.44 German time clock. He should last for about six and a half hours.
About two hours into the campaign had Cassidy and Marshburn had replaced a coolant pump. They found no evidence of the cause of the leak, much to the disappointment of NASA engineers. But after the installation of the new pump first came out no more ammonia. “So far, so good,” radioed the ground station to the ISS. NASA announced plans to look for new leaks out. Pending a final all-clear, it could still take days.
The ammonia gas is used for cooling an electric circuit of the ISS. “The system could have been damaged by micrometeorites or a piece of space debris,” said ISS manager Mike Suffredini before outdoor use. “We are talking about a very, very small hole.” A Nasa spokesman said the use of one of those “big twelve” types of emergency repairs that are trained for all outdoor use astronauts in advance.
However, there appeared to be differences of opinion about how serious the incident. Department and station were not in danger, stressed the Nasa. The ISS still have plenty of power, even if had to be disconnected from the power supply due to leak one of the eight solar modules. A total contrast sounded Vladimir Solovyov, flight director of the Russian ISS segment: his American colleagues had a “very, very serious problem,” Solovyov told Interfax news agency
From Russian space sources said that a postponement of the planned shortly return of three crew members was possible. Except Hadfield, Marshburn and Cassidy are currently working the Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Missurkin in the ISS.
It is not the first time that astronauts have to patch up an ammonia leak in the cooling system of the ISS. In February 2012, U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide the Japanese had to exit to close the hole. The six-hour operation was a success.
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