Home US News Boeing says NASA’s ‘stranded’ astronaut crisis averted, reveals why homecoming is delayed

Boeing says NASA’s ‘stranded’ astronaut crisis averted, reveals why homecoming is delayed

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There’s no race against the clock to get the Starliner flight crew members home from space, according to Boeing.

The NASA astronauts are not “stranded,” and repairs to helium leaks in the propulsion system and the faulty thrusters are nearly complete, Boeing told Fox News Digital in an email.

That’s good news for astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore, who were aboard Boeing’s spacecraft, as well as the success of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) that began in 2010. 

Starliner’s June 5 launch and subsequent return to Earth “is an incredibly important mission,” expert Makena Young said as the U.S. moves away from Russian reliance for space travel. 

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Starliner launched the crew from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station June 5 and was scheduled to return to Earth June 13. 

But a series of issues plaguing the spacecraft’s service module prolonged the astronauts’ stay in space. Starliner is docked at the International Space Station (ISS), where it can stay for 45 days, as repairs are completed. 

Boeing added the craft continues to “perform well in orbit while docked to the space station.” 

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Boeing said the helium leaks “are all stable and not a concern for a return mission,” and four of the five thrusters that were shut down are “operating normally.”

“This means only one thruster out of 27 is currently offline,” according to Boeing, which said it “does not present an issue for the return mission.”

If the issues are resolved, what’s keeping Williams and Wilmore in space?

Boeing said it’s for data collection to fully understand what went wrong since the troubled service module is discarded when the crew leaves the ISS and burns up in the atmosphere on reentry. 

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“The helium systems and thrusters will not return to earth for failure analysis, so Boeing and NASA have extended the mission in order to collect more data,” Boeing said.

“The crew is not pressed for time to leave the station since there are plenty of supplies in orbit, and the station’s schedule is relatively open through mid-August.”

NASA hasn’t responded to Fox News Digital’s questions.

Boeing and the Elon Musk-funded SpaceX programs are pivotal players in NASA’s CCP, which would allow NASA to send astronauts and cargo to the ISS without relying on Russia.

Young, a fellow with the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said NASA has paid almost $2 billion to Russia to get 30 astronauts to the ISS and back after retiring the shuttle in 2011.

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Instead of paying the “hefty price tag” to an adversarial country, NASA turned to private U.S. companies to get people and humans to the space station. 

“This is an incredibly important mission,” Young said.

“These delays seem like a bad thing and can erode confidence that you have in the system … but you really want to make sure that there are no questions in the back of your mind when you’re saying, ‘OK, yes, this is ready to launch humans.’”

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This was Boeing’s inaugural mission to bring humans to the ISS, while SpaceX’s Dragon craft has had several successful trips. 

This exact predicament illustrates the need to have at least two reliable options to get to and from the ISS, Young said.

“It’s a great point to underscore as well, that these astronauts are not stranded because NASA does have this other system that is reliable and proven,” Young said. 

“That’s why NASA always has a redundancy, so that if something does go wrong with one program, the other is able to easily step in.”

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