It’s no secret that the International Space Station (ISS) is aging. The first piece of the orbiting lab was launched in 1998, making parts of the station almost 22 years old. Despite regular upkeep and upgrades, nothing can be built to last forever.
The ISS is currently suffering from a rash of bad luck that has included several equipment and systems malfunctions in the past few weeks. Most recently, the station experienced a trio of minor problems on Monday night. The toilet located in the Russian segment as well as one of the station’s oxygen generation systems were affected.
As of now, everything has been fixed and is once again operational. Fortunately, all of the crew members are safe. The rash of problems could point to a more serious problem, however.
The astronauts currently stationed aboard the ISS can’t seem to catch a break. They spent a long Monday night working to repair the malfunctioning equipment. In orbit, even a broken toilet can quickly become a serious problem.
Meanwhile, the space station’s air supply has been a hot topic recently as astronauts have worked for months to find and patch a small hole that had been leaking air. They did so earlier on Monday by tossing tea leaves into the air and following their path.
However, their good luck quickly ran out as nighttime approached. The toilet was the first thing to fail. Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin reported the issue to ground controllers. It is believed that the problem was related to an air bubble forming in the toilet system and disrupting its normal functions.
While the Russian team worked to fix the problem, they were able to use the bathroom inside their docked Soyuz spacecraft. Of course, NASA also recently installed a new $23 million toilet on the ISS earlier in October.
The more pressing problem came later in the evening. One of the station’s two oxygen supply systems—also located on the Russian side of the station—broke down. It is the same system that broke down last week. This time, a lack of water (which is used to generate oxygen) was to blame. Like the toilet, the oxygen generation system has since been fixed.
Should it have stayed down for a prolonged period, NASA’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) is capable of sustaining the crew on its own.
Though it’s a minor thing compared to the other two issues, an oven used to heat up meals also broke down on Monday night.
After the various situations were resolved, a spokesperson for Russia’s Roscosmos said, “All of the station’s systems are operating normally, there is no danger to the crew’s safety and the ISS journey.”
Although the issues that occurred on Monday weren’t extremely serious, they are concerning due to their repetitive nature. It’s clear that the ISS is starting to show signs of its age. That isn’t a good thing considering it is orbiting in space with humans on board. Given the latest rash of malfunctions, it may be time for agencies like NASA and Roscosmos to start considering alternatives to the ISS or finding ways to update its aging systems.