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Special Delivery

The space shuttle Atlantis recently delivered a quadrupole mass spectrometer to the international space station Alpha. Officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said it was specifically designed for use outside the space station. It can detect ammonia, rocket propellant, oxygen, nitrogen and water leaks. "The instrument will promote space flight safety for the international space station," JPL's Dr. Ara Chutjian the principal investigator on the project.

The quadrupole mass spectrometer array is about 5 cm long. It's part of a shoebox-sized system with software and visual readout. The entire unit weighs about 2.3 kilograms and can be carried on an astronaut's chest pack. A small screen shows a graph indicating any detected gases that could pose a safety risk to the astronauts, such as ammonia leaks from fittings on the new U.S. built science laboratory Destiny. Astronaut Thomas Jones had to undergo decontamination procedures after being sprayed by ammonia while hooking up hoses between the science lab and Alpha on February 10th.

According to Chutjian "JPL has developed the smallest mass spectrometer ever produced for either manned or robotic spaceflight". The system was developed in collaboration with NASA and subcontractor Oceaneering Space Systems.

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