Houston, we have a leak. Space station losing ammonia

NASA reports crew in no danger; growing leak could shut down a cooling loop

NASA ground engineers and astronauts aboard the International Space Station are working together to fix an ammonia leak on the station.

The space agency reported late Thursday afternoon that space station crew members had reported seeing small, white flakes floating away from part of the space station's backbone earlier in the day.

NASA confirmed that the leak was ammonia and then noted that the rate of the leak is increasing.

The station's six crew members are not in danger and the orbiter continues to operate normally, officials said.

NASA reported that while crew members used handheld cameras, engineers at Mission Control used external television cameras to obtain additional imagery and pinpoint the location of the leak.

According to NASA's findings, the leak appears to be in the same area that was hit with a leak last fall. On Nov. 1, 2012, astronauts did a spacewalk to fix the leak.

While the leak appears to be from the same spot, NASA has not yet fully concluded that it's the same problem that occurred before.

Ammonia, a colorless gas made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, is used to cool the space station's power channels, which provide electricity to different systems. Each solar array, for instance, has its own independent cooling loop.

The leak is believed to be in one of the cooling loops coming from a solar array.

The leak could force the loop's shut down by Saturday.

The space agency noted that engineers are coming up with a plan to reroute power channels away from this one solar array, taking some pressure off that loop and hopefully maintaining full operation of all the systems that have been dependent on that one loop.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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