Slow leak discovered using a tea bag, according to Russian Space Agency

(Front row from left) Expedition 64 crew members Kate Rubins, Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov join Expedition 63 crew members (back row from left) Ivan Vagner, Anatoly Ivanishin and Chris Cassidy inside the space station’s Zvezda service module.

Image: NASA

Astronauts living on the International Space Station used a creative tool to trace the elusive leak on the orbiting laboratory: tea leaves, according to Russian News Agency TASS.

NASA and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, have been tracking a slow leak on the space station for more than a year, but its cause and location eluded the space agencies until recently. In September, the astronauts on the ISS were able to trace the leak to Zvezda, the Russian segment of the Space Station.

Astronauts already serve as researchers and maintenance workers for the ISS but with the slow air leak, they became detectives searching for the cause.

Using a method Sherlock Holmes would be proud of, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin used tea leaves from a tea bag that gathered at what looked like a scratch but turned out to be a small crack, reports TASS. The flaw has been temporarily repaired, according to Roscosmos.

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“Russian crew members were able to temporarily seal the air leak teams have been investigating aboard the station,” a NASA Johnson Space Center spokesperson said.

“The leak, which has been investigated for several months, continues to pose no immediate danger to the crew at the current leak rate. Roscosmos engineers are working with the station crew to develop a forward plan to permanently seal the suspected leak location.”

There are currently six astronauts and/or cosmonauts on the ISS: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, cosmonauts Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, with the newest crew members, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, arriving on station last week. Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner will depart for Earth on Tuesday in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

It’s unclear what caused the leak, but it’s not the first time a part of the space station or a spacecraft has suffered damage. In 2018, astronauts patched a small hole on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked at the ISS that was caused by a micrometeorite strike.

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