Nasa is working to contain a small leak onboard the International Space Station.
The issue appears to be contained and the people on board the station do not appear to be under any immediate threat. But it did trigger a real alarm through the floating lab, which sent astronauts scrambling to find the cause of the problem.
The crew was forced to check for the source of the leak by closing separate modules on the space station and finding which of them may be damaged. It was eventually tracked down in part of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, which arrived at the station in early June carrying a crew of astronauts.
It is possible that the craft was hit by a small piece of debris that may have pierced its surface and allowed air to escape from inside the space station.
That module is not required to get the astronauts back down again, so any issues should not cause problems for their descent, and it can be relatively easily removed from the main part of the ISS. But it is not clear what will be done with the spacecraft if it is damaged.
At the time of publication, engineers on the ground are taking the space station’s crew through the process required to seal the hole.
Depressurisation is among the most dangerous things that could possibly happen on board the ISS. This time around the threat is contained, but flight crews have detailed and practiced responses to any more extreme problems.
Nasa said that it had started to notice the problems on Wednesday evening, as the astronauts were asleep.
“As flight controllers monitored their data, the decision was made to allow the Expedition 56 crew to sleep since they were in no danger,” the agency said in an update. “When the crew was awakened at its normal hour this morning, flight controllers at Mission Control in Houston and at the Russian Mission Control Center outside Moscow began working procedures to try to determine the location of the leak.”