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Cracks May Indicate the Beginning of the End for the ISS

There may be some undiscovered cracks as well.

Cracks have been spotted on the International Space Station, and while it isn’t cause for immediate concern, retired NASA astronaut and current member of NASA’s ISS Advisory Committee Bill Shepherd described it as a “fairly serious issue.”

NASA told Business Insider the cracks do not threaten the safety of astronauts at this time and no new potential leak sites were found.

The cracks were found by Russian cosmonauts on the Zarya module back in August. Eerily enough, no one seems to understand why the cracks are appearing. To add to the unsettling news, Shepherd believes there may be cracks the crew hasn’t discovered yet.

Shepherd described the cracks as small scratches on the surface of the aluminum plate and that there were likely half a dozen of them. 

A statement by flight director of the Russian segment of the ISS Vladimir Solovyov, which was translated by Reuters, read, “This is bad and suggests that the fissures will begin to spread over time.” Solovyov is also on record predicting an “avalanche-like failure of numerous elements onboard the ISS” after 2025.

A possible explanation, and one that might seem obvious, is that the ISS is getting old. It has been orbiting Earth for 20 years and this isn’t its first bout with age on the Russian side.

Just last year, the ISS experienced a broken toilet, increasing temperatures and a broken down oxygen-supply system. Two years ago, the Zvezda module, which holds living quarters, began leaking air.

NASA funds will keep operations running for another three years, but they have ambitions of acquiring an extension from Congress to continue the station’s activities through 2028.

Whether it is in three years or much later, the station’s life will come to an end and it will descend into the atmosphere to be incinerated. When that day comes, NASA wants one of the private companies it has been recruiting to build a new one.

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