Skip to main content

NASA announces breakthrough in search for space station air leak

The search for an air leak on board the International Space Station should be close to an end.

NASA revealed on Tuesday, September 30 that it has managed to isolate the location of the leak to the main work area of Russia’s Zvezda service module. Additional work is now underway to find the precise spot so that it can finally be fixed.

The space agency has been keen to point out that the leak, which was first noticed 12 months ago, poses no risk to the three astronauts on board the ISS, or to the integrity of the space station itself. However, a recent increase in the rate of the leak prompted NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, to make a more concerted effort to track down the source of the problem.

The work, which took place on two weekends over the last five weeks, involved sending the current inhabitants of the ISS — NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’s Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin — to isolate themselves in a specific section of the outpost so that specialists on the ground could conduct pressurization tests throughout the station.

Both attempts failed to find the source of the leak, most likely because the safe space in which the astronauts waited during the pressurization tests is precisely the place where the leak has now been identified — the Zvezda service module.

The breakthrough discovery came late Monday after ground controllers believed the air leak was suddenly increasing in size, although this turned out not to be the case. The incident prompted the controllers to wake up the three astronauts to ask them to conduct urgent searches using ultrasonic leak detectors. It was then that the leak was traced to the Russian module.

“Throughout the night, pressure measurements were taken by U.S. and Russian specialists to try to isolate the source of the leak,” NASA said in a report on the incident. “Ground analysis of the modules tested overnight have isolated the leak location to the main work area of the Zvezda service module.”

Once the checks were done, the crew reopened the hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments and resumed regular activities.

With October a busy month in terms of cargo and crew arrivals, NASA and Roscosmos specialists are hoping to finally fix the air leak in the coming days.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
How to watch Friday’s historic spacewalk at the ISS
30 stunning spacewalk images to celebrate nasas 300th outing  26

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

NASA astronaut Steve Bowen and his United Arab Emirates counterpart Sultan Alneyadi are making final preparations for a spacewalk at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, April 28.

Read more
Check out this gorgeous space station design from Airbus
Airbus's concept design for the LOOP space station.

Airbus has unveiled a concept design for a gorgeous-looking space station that it says could one day orbit Earth or another planet far away.


Read more
How NASA’s astronaut class of 1978 changed the face of space exploration
Sally Ride NASA

When you look back on the long history of crewed spaceflight, one group stands out for its radical challenge to the conventional wisdom of who could become an astronaut. NASA's astronaut class of 1978 saw not only its first women and people of color working as astronauts such as Sally Ride and Guy Bluford, but also the first Asian American astronaut, El Onizuka, the first Jewish American astronaut, Judy Resnik, and the first LGBT astronaut, once again Sally Ride.

A new book, The New Guys: The Historic Class of Astronauts That Broke Barriers and Changed the Face of Space Travel, chronicles the story of this class and its impact on both NASA and the wider world’s perceptions of who could be an astronaut. We spoke to the author, Meredith Bagby, about this remarkable group of people and how they changed the face of human spaceflight.
Breaking the mold
Throughout the 50s and 60s, NASA almost exclusively chose fighter pilots for its early human spaceflight program, Project Mercury. That meant that not only were astronaut groups like the famous Mercury Seven entirely composed of white men, but they also came from very similar military backgrounds.

Read more