Space Station Leaks – Past and Present
ISS. Credit: NASA

Space Station Leaks – Past and Present

31/08/2018Written by Tamela Maciel

ISS astronauts detect a small air leak, but history tells us it could be worse!

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ISS Detects an Air Leak

ISS Detects an Air Leak
Soyuz docked to ISS. Credt: ESA/Thomas Pesquet
ISS Detects an Air Leak
Soyuz at the National Space Centre

31 August 2018: Astronauts are working to fix and investigate a minor air leak found on the Soyuz spacecraft which is docked to the International Space Station.

This leak is temporarily fixed and flight controllers in the US and Russia are now trying to determine how the leak was caused. It’s possible that a small bit of rock (a micrometeoroid) punctured the millimetre-sized hole in Soyuz.

The small air leak was detected by flight controllers at 23:00 GMT on 29 August, while the six crew slept. But the slow leak was not a cause for immediate concern. When the astronauts awoke on 30 August, they began searching for the leak and eventually located it in Orbital Module of the docked Soyuz spacecraft, rather than in the ISS itself.

The hole, which appears to be an ‘exit hole’ indicating a puncture from the outside, was quickly fixed with a bit of sealant and a cloth.

“It looks like it’s in a stable configuration now with a mixture of epoxy and a wipe — like a cloth wipe — partly in the hole and partly above the hole,” said European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst.

Investigations are still underway, but at present there is no concern for the safety of the crew. The Soyuz spacecraft can always be sealed off from the rest of the ISS in a worst-case scenario. But it’s likely that it will still be used at the end of 2018 to bring three of the crew home. The Orbital Module, where the leak is, is discarded before re-entry occurs so shouldn’t cause an issue for the crew in the Descent module.

Worst Collision in Space Flight History

Things could be a lot worse though!

In June 1997, an uncrewed supply ship called Progress accidentally collided with the Russian space station Mir during a manual docking. This collision caused a puncture in the Spektr module of Mir, as well as damage to the solar panels that provided power to the station.

British-American NASA astronaut Michael Foale was on Mir at the time, and lived to tell the tale. Here’s his harrowing account:

For updates on the ISS leak, check out:

NASA Blogs: https://blogs.nasa.gov/

NASA Space Flight ISS leak forum: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=43736.180

About the author: Dr Tamela Maciel is the Space Communications Manager at the National Space Centre.