NASA's Boeing Starliner Critical Test Mission Home Faces ANOTHER Delay

By Tommy Wilson | Tuesday, 18 June 2024 04:30 PM
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Image Credit : NASA/U.S. Air Force

NASA has announced that the Boeing Starliner, along with its crew, will not be returning to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) until Saturday, June 22, at the earliest, according to American Military News.

This delay allows the team to finalize departure planning and operations, while the spacecraft remains cleared for crew emergency return scenarios within the flight rules, as stated on NASA's Kennedy Space Center blog.

The Starliner's test mission, which launched on June 5 from the Kennedy Space Center, carried astronauts Butch Whitmore and Suni Williams. However, during its voyage to the ISS, helium leaks were discovered in the spacecraft's thruster system. Earlier in the week, NASA had indicated that its teams were assessing the potential impacts of these five small helium leaks on Whitmore's and Williams' return to Earth. The space agency had initially scheduled Starliner's return for Tuesday, June 18, subject to weather conditions and spacecraft readiness.

Despite the leaks, NASA engineers have determined that they should not affect Starliner's return. The agency has confirmed that the craft has sufficient helium for 70 hours of free flight time, while only seven hours would be required for its journey home. Nevertheless, NASA plans to have Starliner fire seven of its eight aft-facing thrusters while docked to the space station to assess thruster performance for the remainder of the mission.

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Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said, "We are continuing to understand the capabilities of Starliner to prepare for the long-term goal of having it perform a six-month docked mission at the space station." He added that the crew would perform additional hatch operations to better understand its handling, repeat some 'safe haven' testing, and assess piloting using the forward window.

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Mark Nappi, Vice President of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program, also commented on the situation, stating, "We have an incredible opportunity to spend more time at station and perform more tests which provides invaluable data unique to our position."

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NASA has promised to provide further information about Starliner's return in a media briefing on Tuesday. After Starliner undocks from the space station, it is scheduled to make a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern United States. This event will mark a significant milestone in the journey of the Starliner and its crew, demonstrating the resilience and adaptability of both the spacecraft and the team behind it.

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