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NASA delays astronauts' return to Earth aboard Starliner capsule

In a Friday night blog post, NASA revealed the latest scheduled date for a return attempt, June 26, was no longer an option.
Boeing Astronaut Launch
Posted at 7:57 PM, Jun 24, 2024

Astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore aren't lost in space, but they may be stuck there for a while.

On June 5, the two veteran test pilots launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, becoming the first humans to ride the Boeing Starliner spacecraft into orbit.

Williams and Wilmore docked at the International Space Station for a planned one-week stay. But that stay could be a lot longer, after the long-delayed Boeing Starliner developed a series of five helium leaks and thruster problems.

"They don't exactly have the ability to just go out there and get a screwdriver and open it up. So they're testing and so forth. The net result is, they say we need more time," said Keith Cowing, a former NASA scientist and editor of NASAWatch.com.

In a Friday night blog post, NASA revealed the latest announced return attempt, June 26, was no longer an option. Cowing says the safety of the crew is the top priority.

NASA has not officially announced the date for the next return attempt.

"These guys have the luxury of taking their time, and if, worst case, coming home another way. So why risk it? And again, it's a test flight. And then you expect these things to go wrong," Cowing said.

Williams and Wilmore aren't exactly stranded, and there's plenty of food and supplies on board to last for months. They'll be an extra set of hands onboard the space station, and recently gave a video tour of the Starliner capsule.

"Let's go forward into Starliner where there was a little bit of action the other day," Williams said during the tour.

Wilmore added: "The spacecraft has handled remarkably well."

Boeing, which has faced public and government scrutiny over problems with its 737 Max jets, says in space, these types of problems are expected.

"All this is beneficial to the team, and it's all beneficial for us learning what we need to learn so that we can make this vehicle better," said Boeing's Starliner project manager Mark Nappi on launch day.

The crewed mission with Wilmore and Williams was the final test for Starliner before receiving NASA certification to fly to the International Space Station. It would then be the second craft able to perform the mission, joining the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

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