Skip to main content

International Space Station crew will do Saturday spacewalk to address leak

By Greg Botelho and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Sat May 11, 2013
The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis took this picture of the International Space Station after leaving it in July 2011. Atlantis was the last shuttle to visit the station, which was first launched in 1998 and built by a partnership of 16 nations. The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis took this picture of the International Space Station after leaving it in July 2011. Atlantis was the last shuttle to visit the station, which was first launched in 1998 and built by a partnership of 16 nations.
HIDE CAPTION
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
International Space Station
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: NASA says the spacewalk will start Saturday morning and last 6½ hours
  • Ammonia is leaking from a cooling loop on a solar array on the space station
  • It was spotted Thursday, and officials have worked round-the-clock since to devise a plan
  • "This type of event is what the years of training were for," the orbiter's commander writes

(CNN) -- Two International Space Station crew members will head out Saturday morning for a spacewalk to address an ammonia leak in the orbiter's cooling system, an emergency that forced NASA officials to work round-the-clock to hatch a plan.

First detected early Thursday morning, the leak was causing ammonia to enter space -- which could be seen in the form of "flakes of snow" -- at a rate of 5 pounds per day, said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager. Ammonia is used to cool each of the solar arrays that provide electricity to station systems.

The discovery spurred teams at NASA, over a busy 24-hour stretch, to go into "a full-court press to understand what the failure is" and how to address it, NASA flight director Norm Knight said at a Friday news conference.

The space station's six-man crew is in "good spirits" in anticipation of the spacewalk, added Knight, a sentiment echoed by a tweet Friday afternoon by its commander.

"This type of event is what the years of training were for," wrote Cmdr. Chris Hadfield of Canada. "A happy, busy crew, working hard, loving life in space."

Hours earlier, Hadfield wrote on Twitter that his crew was planning for a Saturday spacewalk to be conducted by NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn.

How to clip your fingernails in space
What happens if you cry in space?
Wringing out a washcloth in zero gravity

Hadfield -- who is with the Canadian Space Agency -- spent Friday preparing for his role as choreographer of the spacewalk, while Cassidy and Marshburn worked in an airlock to check out the spacesuits they will wear in space, among other tasks.

Cassidy and Marshburn have done two spacewalks apiece, working together both times in 2009 while on a space shuttle Endeavour mission to the space station.

"Since the crew is prepared and our ops team is ready to go, we're going to try to get them outside," said Suffredini.

Scheduled to wake up at 2 a.m. ET, the astronauts will begin their formal preparations about 1 hour and 15 minutes later, Knight said. A hatch will open around 8:15 a.m., sometime after which Cassidy and Marshburn will start moving along a truss the 150 feet out to the site of the leak on the space station's U.S. segment.

Once there, Knight explained, the astronauts will do a "visual inspection" of the leak -- the location of which space agency officials have "narrowed down" thanks to imagery, though Suffredini notes any cracks may be "very, very small." They will also check and possibly replace a pump controller box on the truss, which NASA explains is "the oldest component of the station's backbone."

The entire walk is expected to take about 6½ hours.

The space station's crew, which also includes three Russian cosmonauts, is not in danger from the leak, NASA has said. Moreover, the agency has said the rest of the orbiter is otherwise operating normally.

The leak is in a cooling loop in a solar array that has leaked before. NASA said crew members tried to fix a leak in November. It's unclear whether this is the same leak or a new one.

The ammonia coolant for the power channel, one of eight used to supply electricity to the station, is likely to run out by late Friday morning and it will be shut down, NASA said.

"It is a serious situation, but between crew and experts on the ground, it appears to have been stabilized," Hadfield tweeted Thursday.

In the Friday news conference, NASA's Suffredini said the spacewalk and ammonia leak won't affect the departure -- scheduled for Monday at 7:08 p.m. ET -- of Hadfield, Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.

Three crew members, Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Pavel Vinogradov, will remain on the space station when the others leave.

They will be joined at the end of the month by three new crew members: NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Russian cosmonaut Fiyodor Yurchikhin and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, who are due to launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on May 28.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT