Monday, September 18, 2006

Fire Scare Aboard the Space Station

Space Station
USA Today

     HOUSTON — International Space Station astronauts pulled an alarm and donned protective gear Monday after smelling a foul odor that turned out to be a vapor leaking from an oxygen vent, NASA said.

"We don't exactly know the nature of the spill ... but the crew is doing well," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager. "It's not a life-threatening material."

The crew first reported smoke, but it turned it to be an irritant, potassium hydroxide, which was leaking from an oxygen vent, Suffredini said.

Outpost flight engineer Jeffrey Williams told NASA Mission Control that it apperared to be a toxic leak from the generator as opposed to a fire.

"There was never any smoke. There was a smell," Williams said, according to Florida Today.

The crew donned surgical gloves and masks but did not have to put on gas masks or oxygen masks, Suffredini said.

"Things are calming down," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said.

Because the station's emergency system was activated, the ventilation system was shut down, but ground operations were working to get it back up, Suffredini said.

The crew in the orbiting lab 220 miles above Earth had been working on a Russian oxygen producing device known as the Elektron, NASA said.

The Elektron unit is the same type that has acted up periodically in the past. It uses electrolysis to generates breathing air by splitting hydrogen and oxygen from water. The oxygen is pumped into the station's cabin atmosphere and the hydrogen is vented overboard.

The ISS is in the middle of a revolving door of visitors. Space shuttle Atlantis' six astronauts departed on Sunday and a Russian Soyuz vehicle carrying two new station crewmembers and space tourist Anousheh Ansari were expected to arrive on Wednesday.

Early Monday, Atlantis astronauts attached a boom to the shuttle's robotic arm and started an inspection for damage to the shuttle's wings and nose. This is part of the post-Columbia accident routine for shuttles, in which astronauts look for the type of heat shield cuts and tears that caused the fatal shuttle accident in 2003.

The inspection was being conducted by pilot Chris Ferguson and astronauts Dan Burbank and Steve MacLean while the shuttle stayed about 50 miles away from the station in the same relative orbit. If the astronauts find the type of damage that could cause a deadly accident, the shuttle can return to the station. Earlier inspections showed the heat shield was in good condition.

At the same time, astronauts examined and tried to fix what may be a minor leaky valve used for dumping water overboard.

Mission Control praised Atlantis for completing its main mission of adding a 17½-ton addition, including a pair of 115-foot-long solar wings, to the space station.

More . . .

See Also: Space Station Crew Dons Protective Gear

HOUSTON Sep 18, 2006 (AP)— International space station astronauts pulled an alarm and donned protective gear Monday after smelling a foul odor that turned out to be a vapor leaking from an oxygen vent, NASA said.

International Space Station Has Toxic Liquid Spill, NASA Says

``It appears what was happening is we have some sort of leak of potassium hydroxide from the oxygen vent,'' Suffredini said. ``It's an irritant, not a life-threatening material.''

Odor Reported Aboard Space Station

"Things are calming down," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said."


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