NASA Assures Safety Of Astronauts Amid Starliner Delays

NASA officials have assured the public that despite the indefinite delay in their return to Earth, the Boeing Starliner crew is not “stranded” on the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams have been confined to the ISS since their June 5 launch due to mechanical issues with their spacecraft. They were initially scheduled to return on June 13 but have remained in orbit as engineers work to resolve problems with the craft’s thrusters and helium leaks.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, Steve Stich, addressed the situation, emphasizing that there is no immediate danger to the astronauts. “We don’t have a targeted landing date today,” Stich said. “We’re not going to target a specific date until we get that testing completed.”

The Starliner spacecraft, currently docked to the ISS’s Harmony module, experienced issues with its thrusters and helium system during its docking procedure. Despite these challenges, Stich assured that the crew is safe and the spacecraft is functioning well. “Butch and Suni are not stranded in space. Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home at the right time,” he stated.

Boeing’s Starliner program manager, Mark Nappi, also expressed frustration with media reports suggesting the crew was stranded. “It’s pretty painful to read the things that are out there,” Nappi said. “The crew is not in any danger, and there’s no increased risk when we decide to bring Suni and Butch back to Earth.”

The return module of the Starliner is docked to the Harmony module, which has limited fuel, narrowing the window for a return date. Boeing’s service module, housing critical systems such as the helium lines and thrusters, is discarded before re-entry and burns up in the atmosphere. Engineers aim to study the failed systems and collect data before these components are destroyed.

Despite the known helium leaks, the capsule reportedly still has ten times the amount of helium needed to ensure a safe return. Engineers are conducting ground tests to ensure the leaks do not worsen once the system is pressurized for departure. A new, identical thruster will be test-fired at a NASA facility in New Mexico next week to determine the cause of the thruster issues.