Chemical Leak Causes Scare on Space Station

NASA declared an emergency on the International Space Station briefly this morning after technicians discovered that potassium hydroxide was leaking into living quarters. The leak of the odorless chemical was found after a smoke alarm went off while the crew was conducting some work on an Elektron oxygen-generating device and reported a "chemical smell."

Fortunately, the crew was never in any danger — at its worst potassium hydroxide can irritate the skin and eyes — and NASA reacted swiftly. Following the incident, the crew put on surgical masks and gloves and inserted a charcoal filter into the station’s ventilation system, which will supposedly clean the air and eliminate the odor.

Reportedly, Problems with the Elektron should have been expected given the track record of the device. Over the past few years the Elektro nhas been a source of a fair amount of trouble, requiring regular maintenance and troubleshooting. Still, its not known why the problem with the unit has popped up now. According to the New York Times[Registration Required], Michael T. Suffredini, NASA head of the ISS program, had said:

"he did not yet know why the crew had been working on the Elektron. ‘We’re trying to figure out why,’ he said. ‘This Elektron has been working very well.’"

For those who are curious, no word has gotten out on how the whole incident may or may not effect Anousheh Ansari’s historic journey to the station, although her blog has documented the take off that occurred much earlier this morning.