Boeing’s Starliner Faces Further Delays, NASA Assures Astronauts’ Safety

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 28, 2024 17:03
Boeing's Starliner Faces Delays: NASA Astronauts Provide Updates From the ISS

Boeing and NASA have announced an additional delay in the return of the Starliner spacecraft, extending its first crewed flight test mission.

Despite the delay, NASA has assured that the astronauts on board, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, are safe and not stranded in space. This decision reflects NASA and Boeing's commitment to ensuring the safety and reliability of their space missions.

Extended Testing for Starliner Thrusters

The Starliner capsule, named Calypso, was originally planned to be in space for nine days following its launch on June 5, 2024. However, it has already spent 24 days in orbit and will remain at the International Space Station (ISS) into next month.

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Boeing and NASA are conducting extensive testing at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico to replicate in-flight conditions on the ground. This testing aims to gather more data on the spacecraft's performance, particularly focusing on its thruster system. NASA's Commercial Crew manager, Steve Stich, explained, "We think the testing could take a couple of weeks. We’re trying to replicate the inflight conditions as best we can on the ground."

Details of the Current Delay

During its approach to the ISS, Starliner experienced issues with its thrusters, leading NASA and Boeing to initiate a thorough test campaign. Despite these issues, officials have emphasized that the spacecraft is safe to return to Earth in case of an emergency.

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Steve Stich emphasized, "I want to make it very clear that Butch and Suni are not stranded in space." The primary reason for the delay is to ensure that all thruster issues are thoroughly understood and addressed, rather than due to any immediate safety concerns. Testing is expected to start as soon as July 2 and will take approximately two weeks, though this could extend depending on the findings.

Nasas Boeing Crew Flight Test Astronauts Butch Wilmore And Suni Williams

The spacecraft experienced both helium leaks and thruster issues during a June 6 docking with the ISS. NASA and Boeing decided to extend the mission to allow for a comprehensive analysis of the thruster system and to ensure the safety of the astronauts. Mark Nappi, Boeing's Vice President for the Starliner program, stated, "We’re not stuck on ISS. The crew is not in any danger, and there’s not increased risk when we decide to bring Suni and Butch back to Earth."

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Comparison with SpaceX's Dragon

Starliner was intended to be a competitor to SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which has completed 12 crewed trips to the ISS in the past four years. However, repeated delays and technical issues have placed Starliner in a backup role. NASA plans to use both SpaceX and Boeing for alternating astronaut flights once Starliner is fully certified.

The delays have shifted Starliner's role, but officials remain confident in its future. Boeing's Vice President for the Starliner program, Mark Nappi, stated, "After it’s all complete, we’ll meet and we’ll make sure we did everything we needed to do to understand the system, then we’ll come home safely."

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Future Plans and Ongoing Confidence

The extended mission is a significant step before NASA can certify Boeing to fly crew on operational missions. Despite the delays, officials from both NASA and Boeing have expressed confidence in the safety and capabilities of Starliner.

The spacecraft is designed to handle missions up to 210 days, and the current testing phase is seen as a crucial part of its development. Steve Stich mentioned, "This will be the real opportunity to examine the thruster, just like we’ve had in space, with on-the-ground detailed inspection. Once that testing is done, then we’ll look at the plan for landing."

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Boeing's Vice President for the Starliner program, Mark Nappi, reassured that the crew, astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, are not in any danger and that the mission's extension is a strategic choice for gathering valuable data. The exact date for Starliner's return will be decided after the completion of the ongoing tests, ensuring that every aspect of the spacecraft's performance is thoroughly evaluated.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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