Space station update: Mystery tiny but growing air leak sparks search for hole

Terror at 1,340,000 feet – if this was anything to truly worry about right now

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Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will attempt to find and patch the source of a tiny air leak first detected last year.

In September 2019, NASA, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Russia’s Roscosmos – whose hardware makes up the station – were alerted to a drop in air pressure within the orbiting science lab. The decrease was so slight at the time that trying to fix it wasn't prioritized on the nauts’ to-do-list.

Now the rate of leakage has increased just enough that the current crew will finally attempt to find and repair the damage. Bear in mind some leakage is expected, and compensated for, so no one's freaking out over this.

First, the team will have to work out where exactly the air is seeping out. They’ll spend the weekend in the Russian living quarters with all hatches closed to determine which specific segment of the station is losing pressure.

“The three Expedition 63 crew members living aboard the International Space Station will spend the weekend inside the orbiting lab’s Russian segment,” NASA said on Thursday. American Commander Chris Cassidy and his Russian crewmates Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin "will stay in the Zvezda service module from Friday night into Monday morning.”

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“The test presents no safety concern for the crew. The test should determine which module is experiencing a higher-than-normal leak rate. The US and Russian specialists expect preliminary results should be available for review by the end of next week,” NASA added.

It’s not the first time space station crew members have dealt with a leak. In 2018, Expedition 56 discovered a hole measuring two millimetres across in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that was docked to the Rassvet module, a Russian-owned area holding things like supplies and clothes.

At first it was unclear what caused the puncture. It was thought that maybe it was from a meteorite that crashed into the ISS. Roscosmos’ chief Dmitry Rogozin, however, reckoned it was accidentally drilled by a clumsy astronaut. The leak was repaired using a strip of good ol’ Kapton tape. ®

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