The ISS is facing ‘irreparable’ failures – and they could be about to get worse

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Ever since the Expedition 1 flight crew flew to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 2, 2000, there has been a constant presence of humans in space.

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The ISS was only meant to last 15 years, but more than two decades later it continues to serve as an orbital laboratory for a multinational consortium of space agencies. With years still left for service, officials warned this week that new cracks in one of the modules and older equipment could soon cause “irreparable” damage that could lead to early abandonment and destruction.

According to Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent Russian rocket engineer, the newly discovered cracks on the Zaria module, which is the oldest part of the space station and nowadays only used for storage of Russian equipment, “may begin to spread over time”. “.


As a microgravity laboratory largely unprotected by Earth’s atmosphere, the ISS has proven useful in understanding how to survive and self-sustaining on other planets. Scientists have learned how to grow plants, identified unknown space microbes, and devised methods to combat muscle atrophy and bone loss. Winemakers in France also sent a dozen bottles of Bordeaux to understand how the taste would change in the absence of gravity. (It apparently tasted “beautiful”.)

But unfortunately, unlike a fine wine, ISS tends to deteriorate with age. Solovyov previously warned that an “avalanche” of issues would surround the ISS from 2025 due to outdated equipment and hardware. The severity of the new cracks is not yet known, but it is only the latest in a series of problems plaguing the craft, with the previous cracks posing a serious threat to occupants and workers on the ship as a result of air leaks and pressure drops. does.

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Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has been contracted to remain with the ISS only until 2024, the date set by NASA to retire the space station in 2014. That date has since been pushed back to an expected 2030, although it appears uncertain whether it will be able to stick together for long.

“Really a day later [in-flight] Systems are completely exhausted, irreparable failures can begin,” Solovyov said this week.

In March, NASA official Phil McAllister warned that the ISS could “experience an irreversible anomaly” at any time, and that a responsible handover to private and commercial enterprises would begin later this decade.

With the likes of Boeing and SpaceX using the platform for their own endeavours, the question will be what comes next. After the ISS reaches the end of its life and ejects from orbit to burn up in the atmosphere and shower debris into the Pacific Ocean, mankind’s longest presence in space may finally come to an end.

“We expect the space station to be expanded as a government project by 2030,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the 36th Space Symposium last week. “And we hope to be followed by commercial stations.”

Private firms like SpaceX have long-term plans to move even further into space by establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, while NASA risks gaining a foothold in low-Earth orbit – and with it, the world’s Strengthen your position as the leading place.

China is already working on its own space station, while Russia also last month announced plans to build and operate its own orbiting laboratory by 2030. The two countries have signed an agreement to jointly develop a lunar base, and have invited the European Space Agency. to cooperate with them.

NASA has also been forbidden from discussing how to pursue the space venture with China because of a 2011 law prohibiting the space agency from cooperating with US geopolitical rivals. Roscosmos has also criticized the US for imposing sanctions against the Russian space industry, meaning the end of the ISS could be the end of NASA’s meaningful international cooperation in space for the foreseeable future.


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