COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) –It’s never happened before today. Alarms aboard the International Space Station force an evacuation by astronauts, from the American section of the station into the Russian compartment.

Alex Demetrick has the details of what went wrong and what’s next for the six astronauts.

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At 4:00 a.m. east coast time, the six person crew was well into their work day, when alarms in the American section warned of a toxic ammonia leak, and two Americans and one Italian evacuated into the Russian section of the International Space Station.

“So big picture perspective, we’re still trying to figure out what exactly happened,” said one astronaut.

“We’ll just standby and do anything from our end that you have for us,” said another.

But all the six astronauts could do was seal off the American compartment and wait.

US Astronaut Terry Virts was born in Columbia in Howard County and arrived at the station in November. Virts was just beginning to unload supplies from a cargo vessel when the alarms went off. Potentially deadly to the crew, ammonia is needed to keep electronic equipment cool.

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“If they didn’t dissipate that heat, critical systems can shut down,” said Bill Harwood, a CBS News space consultant.

NASA now believes a computer glitch triggered the alarm.

“At this point the team does not believe we leaked ammonia,” said a spokesperson for NASA.

But until it’s 100 percent certain, the six astronauts will keep the hatches sealed. In an interview before lifting off, Virts talked about the inherent risks of the job.

“Going into the future you know you’re going to have accidents occasionally. It’s a touch business. What I’m very optimistic about is the team we have. I know the team we have at NASA is the best,” said Terry Virts.

Early Wednesday evening NASA says they have cleared the astronauts to the America section of the space station.

In more than 14-years of service, this is the first time astronauts have ever been forced to evacuate a section of the space station for an internal emergency.

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