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New Cracks on the International Space Station Could "Spread Over Time"

The cracks are the latest sign that the ISS might be nearing the end of operations.

Russian cosmonauts discovered cracks in a segment of the International Space Station (ISS) that could widen and spread, putting anyone aboard at risk, a report from Reuters explains.

The report is the latest in a string of signs that the ISS is aging, and it could form part of an "avalanche" of broken equipment after 2025, according to Vladimir Solovyov, chief engineer of rocket and space corporation Energia. Neither NASA nor the Russian space agency Roscosmos has stated whether the cracks have caused any air leaks.

"Superficial fissures have been found in some places on the Zarya module," Solovyov said in an interview with Russian state news agency RIA. "This is bad and suggests that the fissures will begin to spread over time."

The Zarya module, also known as the Functional Cargo Block (FGB), forms a part of the Russian segment of the ISS and it was the first module of the station to launch in 1998 prior to the start of operations in 2000. It provided storage space, propulsion, and electrical power to the rest of the station during the early stages of assembly.

The growing list of ISS malfunctions 

The ISS has faced several issues in recent months as it comes closer to the end of operations. Just last month, a software glitch caused jet thrusters on the Russian research module Nauka to ignite, throwing the space station out of its intended orbit with seven crew members aboard. Progress thrusters were later fired to correct the ISS's trajectory. Last year, cosmonauts used floating tea leaves to help pinpoint an air leak on the Russian segment of the ISS. 

Russia and Roscosmos recently stated that they plan to launch their own orbital space station as early as 2025 as global space agencies plan for life after the ISS — international agreements on the operation of the ISS are set to expire in 2024. Though Russia has not yet formalized any plans to leave the ISS, a Roscosmos official told AFP in an April statement that "when we make a decision, we will start negotiations with our partners on forms and conditions of cooperation beyond 2024." Russia recently turned down an invitation to take part in the US's Gateway lunar orbit station, and has instead decided to partner with China on a separate lunar space station. We are nearing the end of an unprecedented era of collaboration in space — one that may unfortunately be superseded by a new era of space militarization.

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