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A sensor detected a gas leak and forced the International Space Station astronauts to leave their original location

International Space Station crew evacuated after sensor detects gas leak

Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 6:44 AM -

Crew members had to be relocated from the U.S. portion of the International Space Station after a sensor detected a potential ammonia leak at roughly 4 a.m. EST this morning.

An alarm that is sometimes indicative of an ammonial leak went off and the astronauts donned gas masks, powered down any non-essential equipment and moved to the Russian portion, closing the hatch behind them. At that point, they were able to remove their masks.

The astronauts are still stationed in the Russian section, according to Russian media. 

“An escape of hazardous substances from the cooling system inside the US segment of the ISS occurred at about 11:44 Moscow time. At the moment, the US segment has been isolated. The crew are safe inside the Russian segment. The presence of pollutants in the air inside the Russian segment of the ISS is within tolerance limits,” a Roscosmos official told TASS, a Russian news agency.

According to an update from NASA offered at 8 a.m. EST, there is no hard data at the moment to suggest that a leak had occurred. The alarm was triggered by high pressure and other data obtained by a thermal sensor on a redundant part of the cooling system.

An audio clip of the conversation between ground control and astronaut Barry Wilmore suggest that the crew had acted according to protocol but didn't believe an actual leak had occurred. However, they are still investigating.

"Bottom line, all experts have come in now," Wilmore said. "We're trying to figure what's going on."

The chief of Russia's Mission Control also told media that the response of the crew was fast and well-coordinated. American mission control in Houston will analyze the conditions of the American segment and determine how to proceed from that.

If the leak is confirmed to have occurred, it wouldn't be the first time that ammonia leak affected the International Space Station. In 2013, another leak forced an emergency spacewalk. It occurred shortly before station commander Chris Hadfield returned to Earth alongside two other international astronauts.

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