CAPE CANAVERAL - A balky Russian oxygen generator broke down on the International Space Station, but its two-man crew has a reserve air supply that would last about five months, NASA officials said Friday.
The station's primary generator, which has been operating in an on-again, off-again fashion for months, stopped working last week and the station's crew has not been able to fix it.
Mission managers say the unit has failed for good. Consequently, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev and U.S. astronaut John Phillips will be relying on reserves until replacement parts arrive at the station in late August.
Kylie Clem, a spokeswoman for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the reserves would last well beyond the scheduled mid-June arrival at the station of a Russian space freighter with additional supplies.
As it stands, oxygen supplies in a Progress cargo carrier now at the outpost will last until May 22 or May 23.
The crew also is equipped with oxygen generators that work like drop-down emergency air supplies on commercial airliners. Supplies from those would last until early July. Beyond that, there is a 100-day oxygen supply in tanks attached to the station U.S. Quest airlock.
Total air supply now onboard: About 140 days.
Krikalev and Phillips comprise the fifth two-person crew to live and work on the station since the February 2003 Columbia accident grounded NASA's shuttle fleet, cutting off a key supply line to the outpost.
NASA and its 15 international partners since then have been relying solely on Russian spacecraft to haul crews and cargo to and from the station.
The shuttle fleet now is expected to be back in service in mid-July.
Krikalev and Phillips are in the midst of a six-month tour of duty on the half-built station, which is a joint project of the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan, Canada and Brazil.
The two launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 14, arrived at the station two days later and are due back on Earth on Oct. 7.
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