NASA Astronauts Express Confidence in Boeing’s Starliner for Safe Return Home


NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams, who are currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), expressed confidence in their safe return to Earth despite technical issues with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. Their return has been delayed indefinitely as NASA and Boeing investigate the cause of a series of thruster failures and helium leaks in the Starliner.

During their journey to the ISS in the newly developed Starliner, the astronauts experienced degraded thrust which led Wilmore to assume manual control. Despite these issues, they praised the performance of the spacecraft, with Wilmore describing it as “truly impressive”.

NASA and Boeing are conducting ground tests to determine why five of the 28 reaction control thrusters, used for positioning the spacecraft, stopped working during the approach to the ISS. Four of these thrusters were successfully brought back online, enabling the Starliner to dock with the ISS. NASA has decided not to use the fifth thruster for the return trip.

The Starliner has also experienced five small helium leaks in the propulsion system. Despite these leaks, NASA has stated that the spacecraft has sufficient helium, which is used to pressurize the propulsion system, for the rest of the mission.

The return date for the astronauts remains uncertain, although Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, suggested they could return by the end of July if no major issues with the thrusters are found.

This mission marks Starliner’s first trip with humans on board, serving as a test for the vehicle’s performance before NASA approves it for regular use. The delay in the astronauts’ return is due to NASA’s thorough investigation into the spacecraft’s problems, which includes running tests at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The astronauts are not stranded, Stich assured, and there are no plans for a rescue operation. He reiterated that the prime option is to return the astronauts on the Starliner, adding that SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft could also be used if necessary.

The astronauts have been testing the spacecraft while on the ISS, even conducting a real-life emergency test when potential space debris threatened the station. Despite these challenges, the astronauts are enjoying their extended stay on the ISS.



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