The first modules of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched into orbit in November 1998, and the first crew arrived almost two years later. With nearly twenty years of experience capturing astronauts from around the world, the ISS holds the record for the longest uninterrupted human presence in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). After all this time, the ISS is showing the first signs of age.
The ISS crew reported back in August that the Zvezda module was leaking. On September 29, Roscosmos announced that the crew had found the source of the leak, but found it was worse than previously thought. In the latest news on Thursday (October 14), Roscomos announced that the oxygen supply system had failed on a Russian segment of the ISS, but assured everyone that the crew was in no danger.
The problem occurred after three Expedition 64 crew members – cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov (commander) and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (flight engineer 2), and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins (flight engineer 1) – arrived at the station. Once there, they joined NASA astronaut and Commander Chris Cassidy, as well as Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, and brought the entire crew to six.
In addition, a Roscosmos spokesman told Agence France Presse (AFP) that a second oxygen supply system in the American segment of the station is working normally. "Nothing endangers the safety of the crew and the ISS," they said, assuring that the repair work to correct the problem did not begin until one day later – on Thursday, October 15.
Roscosmos has emphasized since the leak was first discovered that it was insignificant and posed no threat to the crew. Pressure drops are a constant problem in space, but it is a problem for two reasons. For one, the leak was found to be “above expected” and concerns were raised that additional oxygen may need to be pumped in to make up for the loss.
Second, the crews found it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the leak, even though it was known to have come from the Zvezda module. However, the Roscosmos spokesman said the crew had found the exact source and that they would receive precise instructions from mission control to address the issue.
While this ongoing incident poses no threat to the lives of the crew or endangers operations on board the station, it does underscore the fact that the ISS has been coming into service in recent years. These assessments were confirmed by Gennady Padalka, the Russian cosmonaut who holds the world record for most days in space and was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.
The Zvezda service module of the ISS is shown with two Russian modules on the front part. Photo credit: NASA
"All modules in the Russian segment are exhausted," he said, adding that the equipment, which was designed to last for 15 years, has been in continuous operation for twenty years. Fortunately, Roscosmos plans to introduce new segments for the ISS in the near future that could fill the void of Zvezda and other aging modules.
This is the disadvantage of facilities that are in space for an extended period of time. This means they don't last indefinitely and need to be de-absorbed before serious problems arise. Currently, NASA, Roscomos, ESA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and JAXA have extended their participation in the ISS mission until 2024. The station is even expected to remain operational until 2030.
But sooner or later the ISS will follow the path of the Salyuts, Skylab, Mir and every other facility that has ever orbited Earth. But with two decades of service, no one can say that there has been no rich life and no incredible journey! And this day won't be long in coming, so we can expect a lot more about missions and experiments in their many modules and segments!
Further reading: Agence France Presse