ISS Crew Pinpoints Source of Air Leak Using Tea Leaves

Now we know that tea leaves can also be used to pinpoint air leaks out in space.
Chris Young

Back in August, we reported on an investigation into a small air leak aboard the International Space Station (ISS) that had been causing an unusual, though not immediately dangerous, amount of air to leak from the space station since September 2019.

Now, Roscomos, Russia's space agency, announced on Thursday that crew members have finally pinpointed the source of the leak thanks to, of all things, tea leaves.


Tea leaves to the rescue

Impressively, the astronauts aboard the ISS let floating tea leaves guide their search for the source of the leak, as Tass reports.

In order to pinpoint the location, Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin released a few leaves from a tea bag in the transfer chamber of the Zvezda Service Module, which houses the Russian segment's kitchen, sleeping quarters, and bathroom.

The crew then sealed the chamber off by closing its hatches and monitored the tea leaves as they floated in microgravity via a video feed.

Pinpointing the ISS air leak

On the video feed, the ISS crew saw as the leaves slowly floated toward a scratch in the wall near the module's communication equipment. That was all the evidence they needed to know that air was leaking through that crack in the module wall.

The crew has since patched up the crack using Kapton tape, Roscosmos reported in a Twitter post on Monday, shared in Russian and English.

As Roscosmos points out, the Kapton tape is only a temporary measure that will soon be replaced with a permanent seal over the leak location. 

As previously reported, the ISS constantly leaks a small amount of oxygen, which has to be replaced periodically by cargo missions. This leak, while no cause for immediate alarm, was causing breathable air to leak at a slightly higher rate than expected, leading to the ingenious tea leaf investigation.

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