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Space Station Crew Safe After Oxygen Supply System Failure

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The International Space Station
The International Space Station
Image: NASA

Crew members aboard the International Space Station are dealing with a failed oxygen supply generator located within a Russian module. Thankfully, the astronauts and cosmonauts are not in danger, but this is now the second recent glitch involving a Russian component, which might be cause for concern.

The malfunctioning oxygen supply system is located within the Russian Zvezda module and it conked out late yesterday, reports AFP. Sounds scary, but a second oxygen supply system located on the U.S. side is functioning normally and providing breathable air for the ISS crew. Moreover, extra oxygen supplies are stored on the ISS as an added precaution.

The system failed on the same day that NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov arrived at the orbiting outpost, joining crewmembers Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner. It’s not clear if the oxygen failure had anything to do with their arrival, though that seems unlikely.


It’s also not clear if the Russian oxygen generation system failure has anything to do with an unresolved air leak. Latest word is that Roscosmos has finally traced the source of the leak, which is somewhere in the Zvezda module, and mission engineers are currently preparing instructions for repairs, as AFP reports. The air leak has been active since last year and is not deemed a risk to the crew.

Regarding the failed oxygen generation system, a Roscosmos spokesperson told AFP that “nothing” currently threatens the crew, and repairs to the system should happen later today.


State-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti is reporting that the failed system is an Electron-VM OGS. RIA Novosti quoted veteran Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who said: “All modules of the Russian segment are exhausted,” noting that they rely on expired equipment in need of replacement.


The U.S. side is equipped with an oxygen generation system capable of supporting the current crew of six. It’s part of an integrated network, called the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), which also includes water recovery and air revitalization. The system “produces oxygen for breathing air, as well as replaces oxygen lost as a result of experiment use, airlock depressurization, module leakage, and carbon dioxide venting,” according to a NASA fact sheet. Oxygen is generated by using electrolysis to split oxygen from hydrogen. NASA’s ECLSS has been operating on the ISS since 2008.

This is a developing story, and we’ll update this post as we learn more.