Air pressure has stabilized aboard the International Space Station after falling for three weeks until astronauts found a tiny hole that probably caused the problem, Russian and U.S. space officials said Tuesday.
The orbital platform had been slowly losing pressure since Dec. 22. Monday, astronauts removed a hose in the window of a U.S. on board laboratory which was the likely source of the leak.
"My understanding is that they (air pressure levels) have stabilised," Jim Newman, director of NASA's Human Space Flight Program in Russia, told Reuters by telephone.
"The leak appears not to be there. It's only been a day. We'll keep watching it."
Newman said it was between 90 and 95 percent definite the hole in the pipe had caused the leak. It was used to keep air and condensation out of the windows around the laboratory.
Russian officials, who insisted last week that air pressure levels had steadied, said it had increased slightly by Tuesday.
"Today it has already risen a little," Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko, spokesman for Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos, said.
Officials said the leak posed no danger to the two-man crew, NASA astronaut Michael Foale and Russian Alexander Kaleri. They will be sent a replacement hose when the next Progress cargo ship heads to the station on Jan. 29.
The crew will press ahead with plans to seal off the four main modules and isolate the crew in one section as part of the pressure monitoring procedure, since it was still too early to tell whether the leak had been totally halted, Newman said.
"They are going to do that over the weekend," he said, explaining the procedure originally scheduled for Wednesday had been put back. "The astronauts will be in the service module, where the food and the potty are."
Officials said they still did not know what made the hole in the hose. "When it is brought back to earth, specialists will determine (the cause)," Mikhailichenko said.
A fresh crew will head for the station in mid-April to replace the current astronauts, aboard since October.
NASA said on its Web site www.nasa.gov it would send veteran astronaut Leroy Chiao instead of William McArthur, who was scheduled to go but has been ruled out on health grounds.