Leak forces astronauts to double up


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A baffling slow leak of air aboard the International Space Station is still defying detection, forcing its two astronauts to take extra measures to find its source, NASA said yesterday.

Although the crew is not in any danger, engineers in Houston and Moscow agreed to start closing hatches, in effect separating the Russian and U.S. sections of the orbital complex.

The astronauts' scientific work - curtailed after the shuttle disaster last year forced a reduction in the crew, to two members from three - will come to a complete halt. For the weekend, they will stay in the Russian quarters, which are not nearly as comfortable as those where they normally live and work.

The two astronauts, Dr. C. Michael Foale, the American station commander, and Alexander Y. Kaleri, the Russian flight engineer, will have access to the Soyuz capsule that carried them into orbit in October, still available as a lifeboat in case of emergency.

On Monday, if no leak is found over the weekend, the station will be repressurized with equipment that is already on board.

"Keep in mind this [leak] is very, very small and there is a half-year's supply of air at the current decay rate," said the space station manager, Mike Suffredini.

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