A toxic leak broke out on the US-section of the International Space Station early on Wednesday, January 14th. The six astronauts on board were forced to evacuate and seek refuge on the Russian side of the orbital outpost, according to the New York Post.
An ammonia discharge inside the Americans’ quarters of the ISS prompted a rescue mission around 4 a.m. EST, as Russia’s astronauts cautiously isolated the six Expedition 42 crew members inside their module, according to Roscosmos.
“The crew’s safety was provided for thanks to the coordinated and quick actions of the cosmonauts and astronauts themselves, as well as operative control groups in Moscow and Houston,” the Russian space agency said in a statement.
NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts, Russians Elena Serova, Alexander Samoukutyaev and Anton Shkaplerov, and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, man the Expedition 42 outpost.
Roscosmos and NASA officials worked quickly and efficiently to evaluate and execute their plans, which included the powering down of all non-essential equipment aboard the US side of the station.
“The Expedition 42 crew members are safe and in good shape inside the Russian segment of the International Space Station following an alarm in the U.S. segment,” NASA said in a statement. “Flight controllers in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston saw an increase in pressure in the station’s water loop for thermal control system B then later saw a cabin pressure increase that could be indicative of an ammonia leak in the worst case scenario.”
NASA added that they were preparing for accidents as they coordinated the recovery of the crew-members. However, the American space agency did not clarify whether or not it was indeed ammonia that triggered the alarm.
“Acting conservatively to protect for the worst case scenario, the crew was directed to isolate themselves in the Russian segment while the teams are evaluating the situation,” NASA explained. “In an exchange at 7:02 a.m. with Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, spacecraft communicator James Kelly said flight controllers were analyzing their data but said it is not yet known if the alarm was actually triggered by a leak or whether the situation was caused by a faulty sensor or by a problem in a computer relay box that sends data and commands to various systems on the station.”
Officials on the ground are expected to continue evaluating the situation, NASA reports. Until its fully accessed, however, the Americans will remain on the Russian side of the spacecraft.
UPDATE 12:00 p.m. EST:
Officials announced that a false sensor reading or computer problem likely set off the alarm, rather than an actual leak of ammonia coolant.
“No signs of a leak,” NASA said via Twitter. “Controllers are assessing.”