Boeing’s Starliner: NASA Astronauts Provide Updates From the ISS

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on July 10, 2024 15:00
Boeing's Starliner Faces Delays Nasa Astronauts Provide Updates From The Iss

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams have been providing updates on their extended mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) following delays caused by technical issues with Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.

Originally intended to last one week, their mission has been extended indefinitely as NASA and Boeing work to resolve the problems.

Starliner's Troubled Journey

The Starliner spacecraft launched on June 5, 2024, marking its first crewed flight. Initially, the mission was planned to demonstrate Boeing's ability to safely transport astronauts to the ISS under NASA's Commercial Crew Program. However, the spacecraft encountered several issues, including helium leaks and thruster malfunctions, which have delayed the astronauts' return to Earth.

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Despite these setbacks, the astronauts remain optimistic about the spacecraft's capabilities. "Launch was spectacular. I mean, truly amazing," Wilmore said during a news briefing. He praised the vehicle’s precision control, noting that it performed "unbelievably well" during operational checks. However, as the Starliner approached its docking port at the ISS, several thrusters unexpectedly failed. Wilmore described the thrust as "degraded" but emphasized their training allowed them to take manual control successfully.

Dealing with Technical Setbacks

To better understand the thruster issues, ground teams at NASA's White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico are conducting tests to replicate the conditions experienced during docking and undocking. Dan Niedermaier, lead Boeing engineer for the thruster testing, highlighted the importance of these tests: "We really want to understand the thruster and how we use it in flight. We will learn a lot from these thruster firings that will be valuable for the remainder of the Crew Flight Test and future missions."

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The Starliner also experienced helium leaks early in the mission. As of the latest updates, NASA and Boeing officials have not yet determined the root cause of these problems. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams commented, "This is a test flight — we were expecting to find some things. We are finding stuff, and we’re correcting it and making changes, making updates with our control team."

Life Aboard the ISS

Wilmore and Williams have integrated into the ISS's daily operations, assisting with science experiments and maintenance tasks. Since their arrival on June 6, they have completed half of all hands-on research time aboard the space station. This includes significant maintenance tasks that had been pending for some time. NASA reported, "Since their arrival on June 6, Wilmore and Williams have completed half of all hands-on research time conducted aboard the space station, allowing their crewmates to prepare for the departure of Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft."

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Their extended stay underscores the flexibility and adaptability required in space missions. Williams emphasized their readiness to return to Earth if necessary: "I feel confident that, if we had to, if there was a problem with the International Space Station, we would get in (the Starliner spacecraft) and we could undock, talk to our team, and figure out the best way to come home."

In addition to their scientific duties, the astronauts also dealt with unexpected challenges, such as a broken pump in the ISS's water processing system, which converts urine into drinking water. This critical component had to be replaced, highlighting the importance of every piece of equipment aboard the space station. Dana Weigel, manager for NASA’s International Space Station Program, explained, "The pump’s failure put us in a position where we’d have to store an awful lot of urine." As a result, NASA prioritized sending a replacement part with the Starliner mission, at the expense of the astronauts' personal items.

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Looking Ahead

NASA and Boeing officials have assured that the current issues should not prevent the Starliner from safely returning its crew to Earth. However, no specific return date has been set. Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, clarified, "I want to make it clear that Butch and Suni aren't stranded in space. Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home at the right time."

The extended mission provides an opportunity to gather more data and ensure that all issues are fully understood and resolved before future flights. This cautious approach is crucial for the long-term success of Boeing's Starliner program and its role in NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

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1 comment on «Boeing’s Starliner: NASA Astronauts Provide Updates From the ISS»

  • John Anderson

    The lack of clarity from both Boeing and NASA is remarkable- laughable comments like ” Starliner is performing well at the ISS” is a car in a garage with a fuel leak performing well?

    Reply
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