There was drama aboard the International Space Station (ISS) today as astronauts raced to find and seal an air leak detected in one of the Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station. The leak, which was detected yesterday at about 7:00 pm EDT, appears to have been caused by a micrometeorite, but it has now been fixed with station pressure holding steady as the crew carries out troubleshooting procedures.
According to Roscosmos, which has responsibility for the two Soyuz TMA spacecraft currently docked with the ISS, the cause of the leak was very likely due to a micrometeorite as the damage appears to be external. The impact left a 2 mm fracture in the Orbital Module of the Soyuz MS-09. Since this module, used to dock with the ISS, will be jettisoned before reentry, the damage will not compromise the use of the craft to return crew members to Earth later this year. In addition, the Russians have ruled out a spacewalk to effect repairs because internal repairs are more effective.
“An emergency situation occurred on the ISS at night and in the morning – a drop in pressure and an air leak aboard the station. Measures were taken to determine the origin of the leak,” said Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, to the TASS news agency. “The US crew gathered in the Russian segment and subsequently compartments were sealed off one by one to understand what happened and where. As a result, we localized the problem.”
The loss of air from the Soyuz and the Rassvet module of the Russian segment of the station that it is attached to was minor and the three Americans, two Russians, and one German astronaut were in no danger. Had the emergency been severe, the Soyuz would have been sealed off or the crew would have retreated to the other Soyuz, MS-08, which doubles as a lifeboat.
Originally detected as a pressure loss by flight control at the Johnson Space Center, the hole was found after a detailed search of the spacecraft and module by the crew. Once isolated, the leak was slowed by a piece of tape before it was sealed by Soyuz commander Sergey Prokopyev using a patch of gauze coated with epoxy resin. Though mission control continues to closely monitor the air pressure, no further action will be taken. However, Roscosmos has announced that it will be convening a commission to look into the incident.