Astronauts Stranded in Space Due to Issues with Boeing’s Starliner

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Two NASA astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, are currently stuck on the International Space Station (ISS) because of multiple problems with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

Engineers are working hard to fix these issues, but time is running out as they have only 45 days of docking time available.

What Happened?

The astronauts were supposed to return to Earth on June 13 after a week on the ISS. However, their stay has been extended twice due to ongoing problems with the Starliner.

The earliest they can now come home is June 26.

Boeing’s Starliner successfully launched on its first crewed flight on June 5 from Cape Canaveral.

However, during the 25-hour flight to the ISS, engineers found five separate helium leaks in the spacecraft’s thruster system.

Current Status

NASA decided to delay the return flight to give engineers more time to fix the faults. The Starliner is currently docked to the ISS’s Harmony module.

Engineers discovered five helium leaks in the system that pressurizes the spacecraft’s propulsion and five thruster failures in its reaction-control system.

Progress and Challenges

On June 15, engineers powered up the thrusters and found that most issues seemed to be partially resolved, but the exact causes are still unknown.

The Harmony module’s limited fuel means that Starliner can only stay docked for 45 days, so the time to safely return the astronauts is running out.

Background

The Starliner was developed by Boeing as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which aimed to work with private companies to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit after NASA retired its space shuttles in 2011.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, also part of this program, has already completed 12 crewed flights since 2020.

Previous Issues

Boeing’s Starliner has faced many setbacks:

  • In 2019, its first uncrewed test flight failed due to a software error that placed it in the wrong orbit.
  • A second attempt was delayed by fuel valve issues.
  • More reviews found problems with the capsule’s parachutes and flammable tape that needed to be removed.
  • Previous missions were also canceled due to a vibrating oxygen valve and a computer glitch during the ground launch.

Conclusion

NASA and Boeing are working against the clock to troubleshoot the Starliner and ensure the safe return of the astronauts.

The window for a return flight is closing, making every effort crucial.

Stay tuned for updates on this mission and other space-related news.


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