Space Station Emergency

There was a flurry of excitement on the International Space Station today, when the crew thought they smelled smoke. It also caused some anxious moments in Mission Control, as Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The space station crew hit the alarm and put on protective gear when a strong odor suddenly filled the station. They told Mission Control they thought they smelled smoke, but Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini says it was only fumes from a chemical leak in the air circulation system.

"What was happening was we had some sort of a leak, we don't understand the source yet, but some sort of a leak of potassium hydroxide, KOH, that was coming out of the O2 vent. We have shut down the electron and cleaned up the spill. The situation is stabilized."

Space station crewman Jeff Williams reported everything back to normal in just a few minutes. Suffredini says even so, declaring a spacecraft emergency activated emergency procedures that got everyone's adrenaline going.

"We were down that road a little bit before we managed to get enough time to chat with Jeff, to get him, in fact Jeff was the one who told us look this was never a smoke event. This was a spill of KOH out of the oxygen vent. And so at that point it turned us instead of a fire and smoke issue to a tox issue."

Suffredini says potassium hydroxide isn't toxic, but it is an irritant that went away when they turned on the station's air scrubbers, and they're now trying to figure out what caused the leak. By the way, this space station crew comes home this week. Their relief, and the first woman space tourist, are now on their way up from Russia. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.