UPDATE: ISS crew back in U.S. space station module after ammonia - WDRB 41 Louisville News

UPDATE: ISS crew back in U.S. space station module after ammonia scare

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Expedition 42 crew members Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti. (Courtesy: NASA) Expedition 42 crew members Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti. (Courtesy: NASA)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two crew members are back in the U.S. portion of the International Space Station -- at least temporarily -- following an early-morning evacuation prompted by an alarm indicating a possible ammonia leak.

According to NASA, American astronauts Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore re-entered the U.S. segment of the station shortly after 3 p.m. EST, wearing special breathing apparatus. 

Preliminary samples of the atmosphere showed no evidence of any leak, according to the space agency.

There were tense moments shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday when the alarm first sounded and several of the crew members were evacuated to the Russian side.

The crew of Expedition 42, which includes American astronaut Terry Virts, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, were not in danger, according to a statement from NASA that was issued Wednesday morning:

"The Expedition 42 crew members are safe and in good shape inside the Russian segment of the International Space Station following an alarm in the U.S. segment at about 4 a.m. EST.

Flight controllers in Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston saw an increase in pressure in the station's water loop for thermal control system B then later saw a cabin pressure increase that could be indicative of an ammonia leak in the worst case scenario. Acting conservatively to protect for the worst case scenario, the crew was directed to isolate themselves in the Russian segment while the teams are evaluating the situation. Non-essential equipment in the U.S. segment of the station was also powered down per the procedures.

In an exchange at 7:02 a.m. with Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, spacecraft communicator James Kelly said flight controllers were analyzing their data but said it is not yet known if the alarm was actually triggered by a leak or whether the situation was caused by a faulty sensor or by a problem in a computer relay box that sends data and commands to various systems on the station."

A tweet from NASA's official Twitter account, sent out at shortly after 8 a.m., indicates that it is increasingly likely that there is no leak, and that the alarm was a result of "a false indication, either a faulty sensor or computer relay." NASA tweeted a short time later that there are "no signs of a leak."

An official determination has not yet been made, however.

The crew of Expedition 41, including American astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samoukutyaev are also aboard the station, but were never in any danger.

Back in October, before their launch to the space station, WDRB News spoke with the crew of Expedition 42. Virts spoke about the dangers of spaceflight.

"I don't worry about it," Virts said. "Maybe as a fighter pilot and a test pilot, it's not in my nature to worry about it…once you get assigned to a flight and it's time to go fly, then you go fly. I know all of the people that run Mission Control and who are the engineers on different vehicles, and I know the history that the Soyuz has had, so I have a lot of confidence in this. If I didn't, I just wouldn't fly in it."

"Yeah, being an astronaut is not the safest profession. But it's also – I think – worth it," he added. "If I didn't think it were worth it, then I wouldn't do it. And I think that the things that we're doing now have implications for centuries in the future and so, of course there are going to be risks. If you look back at the explorers that were discovering North American and South America and the islands of the Pacific – I mean, good grief, those were bad odds back then."

"Or even in America, the people who went west and founded Louisville. Nothing about the word ‘safe' applied to what they were doing either, but I'm glad they did those things or we wouldn't have the world that we have today. Sometimes you just have to see that there's a risk, acknowledge that you're going to take it and then take it."

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