Why The Space Station Leak Is A Problem
May 11, 2013

Why The Space Station Leak Is A Problem

Fires in outer space are bad news. For starters containing the fire can be difficult, not to mention that you can’t exactly run away and “leave the building.” More worrying, though, is on manned spacecraft, like the International Space Station (ISS), oxygen is stored on board to maintain its Earth-like atmosphere.

Pure oxygen is highly flammable, making small sparks and heat fluctuations potential hazards. To minimize these dangers, electronics and other systems have cooling systems.

On the ISS, a series of ammonia recycling systems pump the liquid through various systems of the vessel to cool critical components. But should the cooling systems fail, temperature could spike, leading to fires. So repairing failed cooling systems is vital, otherwise some systems would need to be shut down.

For this reason, the members of the ISS are preparing for a space walk to repair an ammonia leak. Crewmembers noted the ejection of small white flakes into space.

“Good Morning, Earth! Big change in plans, spacewalk tomorrow, Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn are getting suits and airlock ready. Cool!” said Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Program in a statement. “The whole team is ticking like clockwork, readying for tomorrow,” he tweeted a short time later. “I am so proud to be Commander of this crew. Such great, capable, fun people.”

NASA reports that the crew is not in immediate danger, as they feel the leak can be repaired at least temporarily. Just in case, cooling systems are being rerouted to cover the ammonia deficit. Those living on the ISS have faced this before; a similar leak was discovered and fixed last November. It is not yet clear if this leak is related to that previous incident.

Image Credit: Keith Tarrier / Shutterstock

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