Stuck in space: – not home yet

Stuck in space: – not home yet

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams have been confined to the space station for weeks after the June 5 launch of Boeing's first manned space flight.

The journey into space began earlier this month when the veteran duo launched into the International Space Station (ISS) with much fanfare.

They were scheduled to return on June 13 after a week at the station — but the craft, the Starliner, encountered problems with its thrusters and helium leaks when it docked at the station, keeping them in orbit indefinitely while engineers investigated the problems.

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In good health: Two NASA astronauts, Butch Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams, are happy aboard the space station.  Photo: NASA via AP

In good health: Two NASA astronauts, Butch Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams, are happy aboard the space station. Photo: NASA via AP
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No landing date has been set

On Friday, NASA announced that investigations into thruster failures and helium leaks were taking longer than expected.

Optimistic predictions suggested the astronauts could return as early as Wednesday next week, but now comes the opposite announcement: NASA won't set a specific date until the test is complete.

– Today we don't have a fixed (landing) date, Steve Stich, head of NASA's Commercial Crew program, told reporters during a conference call. New York Post.

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Starliner: The Starliner spacecraft docked in the Harmony module of the International Space Station orbits 421 km above Egypt's Mediterranean coast on June 13, 2024.  Photo: NASA/AP

Starliner: The Starliner spacecraft docked in the Harmony module of the International Space Station orbits 421 km above Egypt's Mediterranean coast on June 13, 2024. Photo: NASA/AP
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First read the hardware

The problem for NASA and Boeing is that the Starliner's service module, which contains helium lines, thrusters and other critical systems, ejects and burns up in the atmosphere before re-entry.

So before Wilmore and Williams return home, the engineers want to collect as much data as possible.

CONFERENCE: NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich, Boeing's Commercial Crew Program Program Manager Mark Nappi and United Launch Alliance President and CEO Tory Bruno hold a press conference following the launch of Boeing's Starliner space shuttle.  Photo: Joe Radle/Getty Images/AFP

CONFERENCE: NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich, Boeing's Commercial Crew Program Program Manager Mark Nappi and United Launch Alliance President and CEO Tory Bruno hold a press conference following the launch of Boeing's Starliner space shuttle. Photo: Joe Radle/Getty Images/AFP
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– They are not stuck

Stich and Mark Nappi, Boeing's Starliner program manager, insist that despite the delay, the astronauts are not stranded or in danger.

– It is painful to read the characteristics of the media, said Nappi. We have had a very successful test flight, but it is viewed very negatively.

Stitch assures them that both are fine and that it will be returned when it is ready.

– We still have some work to do before the final return, but they are safe on the space station. Their spacecraft is doing well and they are enjoying their time on the station, he says.

Launch: Starliner launched on June 5, and the astronauts had yet to return home.  Photo: REUTERS/Steve Nesius/File Photo

Launch: Starliner launched on June 5, and the astronauts had yet to return home. Photo: REUTERS/Steve Nesius/File Photo
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dissolved

dissolved


Despite the leak warnings

Starliner launched with a known helium leak, but developed as four ships attempted to dock.

While attached to the station, the valves are closed to isolate the helium system and eliminate further leakage.

When Wilmore and Williams return, the valves must be opened again to pressurize the lines.

Even with the known leaks, he writes, the capsule still contains ten times as much helium CBS News.

– Engineers still want to make sure that leaks don't get worse when the system is under pressure.

Starting next week, a new, identical thruster will be tested at NASA's New Mexico campus to find out what might have gone wrong.

The ground tests are expected to last “two weeks”.

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Joshi Akinjide

Joshi Akinjide

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