Cosmonauts patch small air leak on International Space Station: reports

The International Space Station, as seen from the space shuttle Atlantis in July 2011, on the final flight of the shuttle program.
The International Space Station, as seen from the space shuttle Atlantis in July 2011, on the final flight of the shuttle program. (Image credit: NASA)

Cosmonauts are making progress in the fight against the small air leak that has beleaguered the International Space Station for months, according to Russian reports.

The leak was first detected in September 2019 but was too low a priority for NASA and Roscosmos to address until August of this year given the short staffing and high activity rates at the orbiting laboratory, according to a previous statement from the U.S. space agency. In August, NASA announced a few measures that Roscosmos, the U.S. agency's Russian counterpart, was undertaking to track down the leak's location. Those steps included two crew weekend sleepovers on the Russian segment to isolate components of the station. At no point has the leak threatened the space station or the astronauts living on it, according to statements from both agencies.

Now, cosmonauts on the space station report that they tracked down the leak yesterday (Oct. 15) and attempted to patch it, according to reports from Russia's government-owned news service, Tass.

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The leak is located in a compartment of the Russian Zvezda module, as previous work on the orbiting laboratory had suggested. Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner, who has been living in the facility since April, called it a "scratch," according to the Tass report, which also suggested the crew used a tea bag to track down the precise location of the leak but did not provide additional details about the process.

The cosmonauts also attempted to patch the leak, but their reports to mission control today (Oct. 16) suggest it might not hold, Tass reported: air loss has slowed, but the module is still losing air pressure, according to their measurements. The crew suggested reaching out to their American colleagues — currently Chris Cassidy and Kate Rubins — for a different type of patch mechanism.

"Perhaps, we should try hard patches our partners have? We can talk with them. This is because the current patch is not so efficient," the cosmonauts said, according to the Tass report.

Meanwhile, Roscosmos is now dealing with a failed oxygen supply system on the same module, according to AFP. The system failed on Wednesday (Oct. 14), after three new crewmembers moved in that morning and did not pose a threat to the crew, a Roscosmos representative told AFP.

Both issues represent the orbiting laboratory showing its age: The station has been constantly staffed for nearly 20 years and the oldest pieces of the complex launched in 1998.

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.