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Brief The inhabitants of the International Space Station can breathe more easily this week, after a new oxygen generator was switched on.

The new US-built machine will support the existing, but flaky, Russian Elektron generator, New Scientist reports.

The new system was switched on on Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon NASA said the initial kinks had been ironed out. "We are taking it for a test drive, and hope to be producing oxygen within the next couple of hours," a spokesperson told the magazine.

Once the test phase is over, space station controllers will arrange a shift pattern for both generators. Neither can stand idle.

The new generator uses a solid polymer to aid the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen. Managers hope this will make it more reliable than Elektron, which relies on the clog-prone Potassium Hydroxide to help the process along. ®

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