Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) recently encountered a potentially hazardous situation during a spacewalk when they came across a blob of ammonia. This incident occurred after the detection of an external radiator leak earlier this month. While it may sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, the blob of ammonia posed real risks.

Ammonia is a toxic gas/liquid known for its corrosive properties, capable of causing immediate harm to human tissues upon contact, particularly in high concentrations. Exposure to ammonia can lead to eye, nose, throat, and respiratory tract irritation, and in severe cases, it can result in blindness, lung damage, and even death. While astronauts on spacewalks are protected by their suits, the presence of ammonia inside the space station could be dangerous to those working within.

On October 25, 2023, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub conducted a spacewalk to inspect the ISS’s Nauka module’s external radiator. (Image: NASA TV)

During the spacewalk, astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub were tasked with documenting and isolating a coolant leak from an external radiator that regulates the temperature in Russia’s Nauka laboratory module on the ISS.

The astronauts reconfigured valves to stop the ammonia supply to the external radiator, and it was during this process that they observed the ammonia blob. It is believed that the blob formed from residual ammonia disturbed during the valve reconfiguration.

On October 25, 2023, during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station, a blob of ammonia coolant formed between radiator panels after disconnecting the thermal regulator. (Image: NASA TV)

The astronauts, equipped with cleaning tools, took precautions to prevent any toxic material from entering the space station. Although one of Kononenko’s tethers became contaminated due to his proximity to the blob, it was safely left outside the ISS at the end of the spacewalk.

The data collected by the astronauts will be examined by Russian engineers on the ground to determine the cause of the radiator leak and develop a plan for its repair. Despite the potentially dangerous encounter, the astronauts reentered the ISS without any contamination, and no one was harmed during the incident.

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