Astronauts Safely Back inside US Space Station Segment after False Ammonia Leak Alarm

Nearly twelve hours after the threat of a leak of toxic ammonia forced the crew into a middle of the night evacuation from the US side of the International Space Station this morning (Jan. 14) and a hatch closure, top level managers from the partner space agencies gave the all clear and allowed the astronauts and cosmonauts to reopen access to the American portion of the orbiting outpost.

The six person crew hailing from the US, Italy and Russia were allowed to open the sealed hatch to the U.S. segment later this afternoon after it was determined that the ammonia leak was quite fortunately a false alarm.

No ammonia leak was actually detected. But the crew and mission control had to shut down some non essential station systems on the US segment in the interim.

All the Expedition 42 crew members were safe and in good health and never in danger, reported NASA.

The station crews and mission control teams must constantly be prepared and train for the unexpected and how to deal with potential emergencies, such as today’s threat of a serious chemical leak.

After a thorough review of the situation by the International Space Station mission management team, the crew were given the OK by flight controllers to head back.

They returned inside at 3:05 p.m. EST. Taking no chances, they wore protective masks and sampled the cabin atmosphere and reported no indications of any ammonia.

Fears that a leak had been detected resulted from the sounding of an alarm at around 4 a.m. EST.

The alarm forced Expedition 42 station commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency to don protective gas masks and move quickly into the Russian segment, sealing the hatch behind them to the US segment.

Inside the Russian segment, they joined the remainder of Expedition 42, namely cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia, also living and working aboard the ISS and rounding out the crew of four men and two women.

he International Space Station as seen by the departing STS-134 crew aboard space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station as seen by the departing STS-134 crew aboard space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011. US segment on top in this view. Credit: NASA

“The alarm is part of the environmental systems software on the station designed to monitor the cabin’s atmosphere. At the same time, the station’s protection software shut down one of two redundant cooling loops (Thermal Control System Loop B),” NASA said in an update.

Ammonia is a toxic substance used as a coolant in the stations complex cooling system that is an essential requirement to continued operation of the station.

Ammonia is a gas at room temperature that is extremely dangerous to inhale or when it comes in contact with skin, eyes and internal organs.

Precautions must be taken if a leak is feared in a confined space such as the ISS. It has about the same habitable volume as a four bedroom house.

As a professional chemist, I’ve worked frequently with ammonia in research and development labs and manufacturing plants and know the dangers firsthand. It can cause severe burns and irritations and worse.

There have been prior ammonia leaks aboard the ISS facility that forced a partial evacuation similar to today’s incident.

The ISS has been continuously occupied by humans for 15 years.

In the case of a life threatening emergency, the crew can rapidly abandon the station aboard the two docked Russian Soyuz capsules. They hold three persons each and serve as lifeboats.

Fortunately, the perceived ammonia leak this morning was not real and apparently was caused by a false alarm.

“This morning’s alarm is suspected to have been caused by a transient error message in one of the station’s computer relay systems, called a multiplexer-demultiplexer. A subsequent action to turn that relay box off and back on cleared the error message and the relay box is reported by flight controllers to be in good operating condition,” according to a NASA statement.

“Meanwhile, flight controllers are continuing to analyze data in an effort to determine what triggered the alarm that set today’s actions in motion.”

“Work to reactivate cooling loop B on the station will continue throughout the night and into the day Thursday. The crew members are expected to resume a normal complement of research activities on Thursday as well.”

The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV
This view shows the US side of the ISS that was evacuated today, Jan. 14, 2015, by the crew due to possible ammonia leak. The SpaceX CRS-5 Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV

The evacuation came just two days after a commercial SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter successfully rendezvoused and berthed at the station on Monday, Jan. 12.

The crew had just opened the hatch to Dragon and begun unloading the goodies stored aboard.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Our Beautiful Earth – Happy New Year Photos and Greetings from the ISS Crew

Spectacular View of the Alps From Space!
Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) took this photograph of the Alps from the International Space Station. She wrote, “I’m biased, but aren’t the Alps from space spectacular? What a foggy day on the Po plane, though! #Italy” Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Updated with more images[/caption]

As we say goodbye to 2014 and ring in New Year 2015, the Expedition 42 crew living and working aboard the International Space Station enjoys the new gallery of images they’ve sent back of “Our Beautiful Earth.”

The current six person crew includes astronauts and cosmonauts from three nations – America, Russia, and Italy – and the four men and two women are celebrating New Year’s 2015 aboard the massive orbiting lab complex.

Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

They comprise Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts from NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA), and cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds.#HelloEarth.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds.#HelloEarth. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

The ISS has been continuously occupied by humans for 15 years. And they are joined by Robonaut 2 who recently got legs.

This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti have been especially prolific in picture taking and posting to social media for us all to enjoy the view while speeding merrily along at 17,500 mph from an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

Here’s a special New Year video greeting from Wilmore and Virts:

Video Caption: Happy New Year from the International Space Station from NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts. Credit: NASA

“Happy New Year from the International Space Station!” said Wilmore.

“We figure that we will be over midnight somewhere on the Earth on New Year’s for 16 times throughout this day. So we plan to celebrate New Year’s 16 times with our comrades and our people down on Earth.”

No sunsets until Jan 4th- we are in a "high beta" orbit now, so this is as dark as it gets.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
No sunsets until Jan 4th- we are in a “high beta” orbit now, so this is as dark as it gets. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

“We wish everybody a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015 as we get the awesome privilege of celebrating New Year’s here on the space station with our six station crewmates,” added Virts!

“We’ll enjoy our 16 New Year’s celebrations here.”

Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

They plan to celebrate the dawn of 2015 with fruit juice toasts, NASA reports.

The year 2015 starts officially for the station crew at midnight by the Universal Time Clock (UTC), also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in London, or at 7 p.m. EST Dec. 31.

If I couldn't be in space right now I'd want to be here- #Hawaii.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
If I couldn’t be in space right now I’d want to be here- #Hawaii. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

New Year’s Day 2015 is a day off for the crew.

And I’m certain they’ll be gazing out the windows capturing more views of “Our Beautiful Earth!”

42 è la risposta! // 42 is the answer! #Expedition42 Guide to the galaxy. Credit: @NASA_Astronauts #AstroButch
42 è la risposta! // 42 is the answer! #Expedition42 Guide to the galaxy. Credit: @NASA_Astronauts #AstroButch

And don’t forget to catch up on the Christmas holiday imagery and festivities from the station crews in my recent stories – here and here.

#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO#WorldHeritage! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO#WorldHeritage! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Be sure to remember that you can always try and catch of glimpse of the ISS flying overhead by checking NASA’s Spot the Station website with a complete list of locations.

It’s easy to plug in and determine visibilities in your area worldwide. And try to shoot a time-lapse view like mine below.

ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ - time lapse image.  Credit: Ken Kremer
ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ – time lapse image. Credit: Ken Kremer

Meanwhile the crew continues science operations and preparations for next week’s arrival of the next unmanned space station resupply ship on the SpaceX CRS-5 mission.

CRS-5 is slated to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 6 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to the ISS after completing a successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of the planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA and Terry Virts, NASA send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth.  Credit: NASA/ESA
ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA, and Terry Virts, NASA, send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Station Astronauts Send Christmas Greetings from the International Space Station

ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA and Terry Virts, NASA send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
Story/pics expanded. Send holiday tweet to crew below![/caption]

There is a long tradition of Christmas greetings from spacefarers soaring around the High Frontier and this year is no exception!

The Expedition 42 crew currently serving aboard the International Space Station has decorated the station for the Christmas 2014 holiday season and send their greetings to all the people of Earth from about 240 miles (400 km) above!

“Merry Christmas from the International Space Station!” said astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA, who posed for the group shot above.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree.  Credit: NASA/ESA
Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree. Credit: NASA/ESA

“It’s beginning to look like Christmas on the International Space Station,” said NASA in holiday blog update.

“The stockings are out, the tree is up and the station residents continue advanced space research to benefit life on Earth and in space.”

And the six person crew including a trio of Russian cosmonauts, Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov who celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas, are certainly hoping for and encouraging a visit from Santa. Terry Virts even tweeted a picture of the special space style milk and cookies awaiting Santa and his Reindeer for the imminent arrival!

“No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed,” tweeted Virts.

No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

And here’s a special Christmas video greeting from Wilmore and Virts:

Video Caption: Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA offered their thoughts and best wishes to the world for the Christmas holiday during downlink messages from the orbital complex on Dec. 17. Wilmore has been aboard the research lab since late September and will remain in orbit until mid-March 2015. Virts arrived at the station in late November and will stay until mid-May 2015. Credit: NASA

“We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Christmas for us is a time of worship. It’s a time that we think back to the birth of what we consider our Lord. And we do that in our homes and we plan to do the same thing up here and take just a little bit of time just to reflect on those topics and, also, just as the Wise Men gave gifts, we have a couple of gifts,” Wilmore says in the video.

“It’s such an honor and so much fun to be able to celebrate Christmas up here. This is definitely a Christmas that we’ll remember, getting a chance to see the beautiful Earth,” added Virts. “Have fun with your family. Merry Christmas!”

And you can send a holiday tweet to the crew – here:
holiday-tweet-banner-02

Meanwhile the crew is still hard at work doing science and preparing for the next space station resupply mission launch by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is now set to blastoff on Jan. 6, 2015 carrying the Dragon cargo freighter on the CRS-5 mission bound for the ISS.

The launch was postponed from Dec. 19 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 went the full duration and cleared the path for the Jan. 6 liftoff attempt.

Among the science studies ongoing according to NASA are:

“Behavioral testing for the Neuromapping study to assess changes in a crew member’s perception, motor control, memory and attention during a six-month space mission. Results will help physicians understand brain structure and function changes in space, how a crew member adapts to returning to Earth and develop effective countermeasures.”

“Another study is observing why human skin ages at a quicker rate in space than on Earth. The Skin B experiment will provide scientists a model to study the aging of other human organs and help future crew members prepare for long-term missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”

Merry Christmas to All!

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Watch Three Humans Take A Flawless Ride To Space Yesterday

And now we have six people in space again — including the first-ever Italian woman to reach orbit. Samantha Cristoforetti has been delighting people worldwide with her behind-the-scenes training posts as she prepares for her “Futura” mission, which will see her spend 5.5 months on the International Space Station with her crewmates. We have the NASA video from the big day above, and some photos from the launch below.

Cristoforetti has been sharing Spotify playlists and amusing tweets with more than 131,000 Twitter followers, not to mention people on Flickr and Google Plus. Her sense of humor and eye for the unusual will make for a fun few months in orbit along with the rest of her crew, NASA’s Terry Virts and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov.

On station for their arrival last night was the second half of their crew:  Barry Wilmore (NASA), Elena Serova (Russia) and Alexander Samoukutyaev (Russia). And in March 2015, a big event occurs: the first one-year mission on the International Space Station will begin with the arrival of the next crew.

The launch took place at 4:01 p.m. EDT (9:01 p.m. UTC) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.

 

Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Samantha Cristoforetti (left, European Space Agency) speaks with a loved one through the glass at a pre-launch press conference. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Samantha Cristoforetti (left, European Space Agency) speaks with a loved one through the glass at a pre-launch press conference. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos, center) visits with a family member (at right) through the glass at a pre-flight press conference. In the background are his crewmates, from left: Terry Virts (NASA) Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA). Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos, center) visits with a family member (at right) through the glass at a pre-flight press conference. In the background are his crewmates, from left: Terry Virts (NASA) Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA). Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani