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ISS Russian segment air leak, crew safe

  • ISS Zvezda module leaking air
  • Crew safety not compromised
  • Repairs and monitoring ongoing

The occurrence of a breach on the International Space Station is not unprecedented.

NASA has confirmed that a Zvezda module on the Russian side of the orbiting laboratory is releasing air through a 3-foot-diameter hole.

As a result of the module’s isolation from the remainder of the space station, the seven astronauts aboard are thankfully not at risk.

By 2030, the ageing space station, which is situated at an altitude of 254 miles in low Earth orbit, is scheduled to be decommissioned.

It follows a number of gas and coolant fluid breaches from the International Space Station in recent years, including one purportedly caused by a deliberately created aperture.

ISS programme manager Joel Montalbano disclosed the breach during a live press briefing at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida this week.

“I would estimate the length of that area to be around three feet,” Montalbano stated.

“We’ve been monitoring this for some time; this area has experienced leaks, and we’ve even patched a few cracks in that module component.”

“Our Russian colleagues and I are collaborating on the next course of action.”

He further stated that while it is not affecting crew safety or operations, it is “something that everyone should be aware of.”

The management of the space station’s diverse modules is entrusted to five space agencies: CSA (Canada), NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), and ESA (Europe), analogous to distinct rooms in a building.

Due to the hermetic compartmentalization of the International Space Station, the leaky Russian module, Zvezda, can be effectively isolated.

“Everything will be solid when we close that hatch,” Montalbano stated. “This includes the remainder of the space station, the Russian modules, the American modules, the European modules, and the Japanese modules.”

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed the leak in its own statement and assured that no members of the crew are in imminent peril.

“Experts have indeed detected an air leak aboard the International Space Station,” Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed in a statement.

“The station and its crewmembers are not at risk.”

The Zvezda module supplies oxygen and potable water to the Russian portion of the station, making it an essential component of that section.

Zvezda’s History of Leaks

In addition to housing CO2 scrubbers that remove gas exhaled by inhabitants, it provides the Russian cosmonauts with sleeping quarters, a restroom, and a dining area.

This is not the first time that the Zvezda module, which was launched into space in July 2000 to interact with other ISS components, has experienced a leak.

NASA officials first detected space station oxygen in September 2019, and the information was made public the following year.

The breach was not initially detected as emanating from the Zvezda module until much later; efforts were made to rectify the situation, but the outcome of those efforts remains uncertain.

It follows last year’s release of critical coolant fluid from the International Space Station, which was deemed severe but did not endanger the lives of the astronauts on board.

A second aperture that led to a pressure loss aboard the International Space Station was repaired by the crew in 2018.

Dmitry Rogozin, the former director-general of Roscosmos, stated that the opening was not the result of a manufacturing defect and that it was probably created by hand.

NASA issued the following statement in response: “This conclusion does not necessarily imply that the hole was deliberately or maliciously created.”

The precise cause of the breach was attributed to an engineer’s bungled repair attempt, which involved penetrating the side of the spacecraft with a drill.

However, allegations of deceit and intentional sabotage were levelled by some.

According to Dr James Blake, a researcher specialising in space debris at the University of Warwick, such breaches may be mitigated during the component design process for forthcoming space stations.

“As the International Space Station nears the conclusion of its third decade in space, focus will quickly transition to its probable successors,” he informed.

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“Leaks can cause disruption; crew expeditions have been unintentionally extended and spacewalks have been cancelled within the past year or so.”

On Saturday (March 2), NASA is scheduled to deploy four additional astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

In the interim, four additional crew members who have been aboard the ISS since August 2023 are scheduled to depart to Earth by the end of this month.

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