Astronaut Chris Hadfield reports serious ISS power system leak

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation on May 29, 2011. (NASA)

Thursday morning, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station, contacted NASA mission control to report a potentially serious situation.

The crew had spotted flakes of a white substance floating away from a point on the station, indicating that there was a leak of some kind. The astronauts pointed hand-held cameras out the windows, and NASA used cameras on the exterior of the station, and they eventually tracked the leak down to ammonia from the system that cools the station's power systems.

[ Related: Ammonia leak detected outside International Space Station ]

Commander Hadfield posted to his twitter account (@Cmdr_Hadfield) to update the public on the situation:

Through continued observations, the astronauts and engineers on the ground saw that the leak was getting worse, which posed a serious problem for the station, as it would force a shutdown of one of the station's cooling loops within 48 hours.

This video from the station shows drops of ammonia floating from the coolant array.

(Listen to Cmdr Hadfield report the problem, and the NASA crew update)

According to a NASA press statement: "The station continues to operate normally otherwise and the crew is in no danger." Plans are now being made for an EVA — short for Extra Vehicular Activity, what the astronauts use to describe a 'spacewalk' — sometime tomorrow, to repair the leak.

Apparently, the station's cooling arrays have already suffered problems in the past. Astronauts needed to make a spacewalk last November to attempt to fix a coolant leak (although it's not yet known if this leak is from the same place). Also, back in August of 2010, one of the cooling arrays completely failed, leaving the station with only half power until the astronauts on board made three different spacewalks to fix the problem.

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While this situation is certainly serious, the astronauts are all thoroughly trained to deal with these kinds of situations, and according to his last tweet about the problem, their commander, Chris Hadfield, is fully confident in their abilities.

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