NASA is looking to see if it was a real ammonia leak, or just sensor problems (1st indication is a cabin pressure rise). That will take time, so the 4 men and 2 women are meanwhile locked in 1/4 the normal space, sharing Russian food and one toilet for at least a day, maybe more.
Ammonia is used for cooling the Space Station through pipes & heat exchangers on the outside of Station. It is an excellent coolant, but is poisonous to breathe. If it breaks through to the inside it is one of the big 3 emergencies. The other two we train for are fire/smoke & contaminated atmosphere/medical.
A quick solution would be to vent the external ammonia out into space. There are two systems so that would lose half cooling for Station, with an ensuing big effect inside. Would also then need to fix any leak and ship up a new ammonia supply. Hopefully none of that will be needed here.
I lost count of the number of times that we practiced this exact procedure in the simulators in Houston. Serious risk requires serious preparation.
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- University at Buffalo, The State University of New YorkAnthropology, with significant coursework in Media Studies, 2005
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