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Spacewalk planned to fix 'serious' ammonia leak at International Space Station

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Ammonia leak

• Liquid ammonia is used to extract the heat that builds up in electronic systems.

• The seepage is coming from the station's port side, at the far end of the backbone, or truss, structure that holds one of the laboratory's huge sets of solar arrays.

• The coolant system requires at least 40 pounds of ammonia to operate normally. Based on the observed leak rate, the channel 2B coolant loop was expected to drop below that level on Friday.

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By The Associated Press
Friday, May 10, 2013, 7:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Two astronauts will make a precedent-setting spacewalk on Saturday to try to fix an ammonia leak in the power system of the International Space Station.

Station Commander Chris Hadfield of Canada reported on Thursday seeing “a very steady stream of flakes.” He tweeted, “It is a serious situation.”

Spacewalks are rarely done on such short notice, but the space agency says the six-member crew is not in danger.

The ammonia leak forced the shutdown of one of eight solar panels that power the station, but the outpost can operate fine with only seven, spokesman Kelly Humphries said.

One of the spacewalk veterans slated for the job is due to return to Earth on Monday, one of the reasons NASA wants to tackle the problem this weekend, he said.

Hadfield told NASA flight controllers on Friday that the six-member crew is completely ready for the spacewalk.

“I think it's really smart the way we're all proceeding here,” Hadfield radioed down to Earth.

The leak is in one of the radiator lines that chill the power systems. NASA spokesman Rob Navias said the line was expected to run out of ammonia coolant Friday. Power has been rerouted and is operating normally, he said.

“What's causing the leak is unknown,” Navias said.

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