The first part of the International Space Station to arrive in space has developed cracks that experts fear are likely to spread. Russian cosmonauts discovered "superficial fissures … in some places on the Zarya module," a Russian-built, US-funded section of the space station also known as the Functional Cargo Block, which was launched to space in 1998, Vladimir Solovyov, chief engineer of rocket and space corporation Energia, told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency on Monday, per Reuters. "This is bad and suggests that the fissures will begin to spread over time."
There have been several other issues at ISS this year. Cosmonauts sealed two cracks that were thought to be causing an air leak in the Russian Zvezda module in March, reports Live Science. But the air leak "in an isolated transfer chamber" was still an issue at the end of July, per Reuters, as the Russian research module Nauka arrived at ISS and unexpectedly fired its rockets, triggering an emergency. The space station was jostled out of position, where it stayed for nearly an hour. Solovyov previously warned about the aging space station, noting there could be an "avalanche" of equipment in disrepair after 2025.
"Around 80% of the inflight systems on Russia's segment have reached the end of their service period," Solovyov added Tuesday, per Al Jazeera. "Literally a day after the systems are fully exhausted, irreparable failures may begin." ISS partners have agreed to operate the station until the end of 2024, per Space.com. However, NASA officials said last year that they'd "cleared ISS to fly until the end of 2028," and had "not identified any issues that would preclude us from extending beyond 2028 if needed." (Still, plans are being developed for the space station's eventual demise.)