It was another long night aboard the International Space Station, as the crew had to deal with a series of minor problems, in what is starting to sound like a broken record.
As always, we have to preface things by saying the crew is safe, and none of the new problems are particularly serious. They’re more of an annoyance, but annoyances on the ISS seem to be in an abundance these days.
The first problem to emerge last night was a broken toilet located in the Russian segment. Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin reported the problem to ground controllers, who suspect the issue is an air bubble that formed in the system, according to Russian news agency Interfax. An update from AFP suggests the toilet problem has since been fixed.
Had it not been fixed, however, the cosmonauts could have relieved themselves in a toilet located in their Soyuz-MS-16 spacecraft, which is currently docked to the ISS. Failing that, they could’ve politely asked NASA for access to its fancy new $23 million toilet, the Universal Waste Management System, which arrived at the ISS earlier this month. If those options were somehow out, the crew could’ve just worn diapers normally used during spacewalks.
A potentially more serious problem emerged later the same evening when the Russian oxygen supply system—yes, the same one from last week—broke down once again. Water used to generate oxygen had run out, but, like the toilet, this problem was evidently also fixed, AFP reports.
Located in the Zvezda module, the Electron-VM oxygen supply system is one of two on the ISS, the other being NASA’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). NASA’s system can sustain the six-member crew, and there are spare oxygen tanks available should things really go sideways.
And as if to add insult to injury, an oven used to warm up food also broke down, according to AFP. Yeah, it was one of those nights.
According to Russian news agency TASS, all problems were resolved over the course of the night. A spokesperson for Russian space agency Roscosmos said: “All of the station’s systems are operating normally, there is no danger to the crew’s safety and the ISS journey.”
Another problem on the ISS—a pesky air leak that began in September 2019—has finally been located and temporarily fixed. Last week, Ivanishin found the source of the leak by observing the trajectory of a floating tea bag within the Zvezda module. The temporary fix consisted of some foam rubber and—you guessed it—a duct tape-like strip known as Kapton tape (Update: A reader would like me to clarify that that Kapton tape is technically not duct tape—it’s a polymer film plus adhesive, while duct tape is fabric plus adhesive. Kapton tape can withstand huge temperature extremes, which is why it’s often used on spacecraft.). A similar fix was used in 2018 for another ISS leak. Ground experts are currently working on a more long-term solution, NASA reports.
Ivanishin, along with fellow cosmonaut Ivan Vagner and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, won’t have to deal with these problems for much longer, as they’re set to return to Earth this week. The trio will undock from the Poisk module at 7:32 p.m. EDT on Thursday and arrive at a landing site in Kazakhstan at 10:55 p.m. EDT.
The International Space Station, it’s fair to say, is starting to show its age (the orbital outpost dates back to 1998). When the Russian oxygen supply system failed last week, veteran Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka said all Russian modules are “exhausted” and that they rely on expired equipment in dire need of replacement, as RIA Novosti reported. Given all that’s been going on in the ISS lately, he’s probably not wrong.