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Space station air leak: U.S. blamed

Astronauts could have been forced to go into a module to isolate leak
Astronauts could have been forced to go into a module to isolate leak

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MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- A leak which caused air pressure to drop aboard the international space station is most likely to have originated in a hose in a U.S. laboratory on board, a NASA official in Russia said on Monday.

The leak, discovered late last month, sparked a fresh row over the 16-nation station between the United States and Russia. But both acknowledged that it posed no danger to the two-man crew.

"The leak is in a flex hose in the lab window," Jim Neuman, Director of NASA's Human Space Flight Programme in Russia, told Reuters by telephone.

"It's 95 percent at this stage... It is most likely the culprit."

He said the problem, if confirmed, would probably be solved by replacing the hose which helps keep air and condensation out of the windows around the laboratory.

Neuman believed there was no longer any need to proceed with a plan to isolate the crewmen -- U.S. astronaut Michael Foale and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri -- in a station module for five days.

That plan called for closing hatches connecting the four main modules -- two Russian and two American -- in order to trace the leak.

NASA officials said last week they believed the orbital platform was continuing to lose air pressure, while Russian officials say the pressure had stabilized at a normal level.

Previous squabbles between the two space powers have included U.S. safety concerns ahead of the current crew's launch and Russia's belief the United States should contribute more funds to the project.

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