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An air supply system on the ISS just failed

Published Oct 15th, 2020 6:49PM EDT
iss air supply
Image: NASA

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  • The oxygen supply system on the Russian half of the International Space Station failed on Wednesday.
  • The crew is safe thanks to a second oxygen system on the U.S. half of the spacecraft.
  • Repairs to the oxygen system will be carried out today.

When you’re living in space there are a few things you need. They’re the same things you need on Earth, really, like breathable air, water, and food, but because you’re completely separated from the ground below, you rely on various systems to ensure that these vital things are available.

On the International Space Station, air, food, and water are delivered on a regular basis. Water can be recycled but still needs to be topped off at times, and food is obviously not something that can be re-used since, well, poop. Air, or more specifically oxygen, needs to be delivered on a regular basis, and machines ensure that there is a nice mix of oxygen in the air so that the crew remains healthy and alert. A failure of the air supply is a pretty serious issue and one that demands immediate attention, and that’s exactly what is happening right now on the Russian half of the ISS.

According to a new report, Russia’s Roscosmos space group revealed that the oxygen supply in the Zvezda module had malfunctioned late Wednesday evening. The issue popped up just as Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft arrived at the space station to deliver a trio of new scientists, filling out the ISS with a full six crew members.

Roscosmos is adamant that despite the fact that the oxygen supply system is broken, there is no danger to the crew. That’s due to the fact that there’s a separate oxygen supply system on the U.S. side of the orbiting laboratory, and that hardware is operating as intended. Nevertheless, it’s obviously important that the malfunctioning oxygen system gets fixed, and it’s become a top priority for the crew.

According to the report, repairs to the oxygen supply system on the Russian half of the spacecraft would be carried out today, and given the laid back nature of the statement by Roscosmos, the group doesn’t appear to be overly concerned.

In a bit of good news, a troubling air leak aboard the ISS may have finally been isolated. After weeks of testing and monitoring, NASA and Roscosmos determined the leak was located somewhere in the Zvezda module — the same module where the failed oxygen supply system is located. Now, the crew believes they have finally figured out exactly where the leak is thanks to a teabag. Yes, a teabag.

By allowing a teabag to float in the zero-gravity conditions of the module, the scientists were able to see where the bag drifted. It ultimately directed them to the source of the leak.