Astronauts Safe On ISS Despite Starliner Mechanical Issues, NASA Confirms

NASA has reassured the public that astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams are safe on the International Space Station (ISS) despite delays in their return due to mechanical issues with the Boeing Starliner spacecraft. Originally set to return on June 13, the crew has remained in orbit since their June 5 launch as engineers work to address problems with the craft’s thrusters and helium system.

Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, emphasized the safety of the astronauts during a recent teleconference. “We don’t have a targeted landing date today,” Stich said. “We’re not going to target a specific date until we get that testing completed.” He added, “Butch and Suni are not stranded in space. Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home at the right time.”

The Starliner spacecraft, docked to the ISS’s Harmony module, encountered issues with its thrusters and helium leaks during docking. Despite these challenges, both Stich and Boeing’s Starliner program manager, Mark Nappi, have stressed that the crew is in no immediate danger. “We’ve gotten a really good test flight, and it’s being viewed rather negatively,” Nappi said. “The crew is not in any danger, and there’s no increased risk when we decide to bring Suni and Butch back to Earth.”

Boeing’s service module, which includes the helium lines and thrusters, will be discarded before re-entry and will burn up in the atmosphere. Engineers are working to analyze the failed systems and collect data before these components are destroyed. Despite the known helium leaks, the capsule has sufficient helium to ensure a safe return.

In an effort to address the thruster issues, a new, identical thruster will be test-fired at a NASA facility in New Mexico next week. These ground tests are expected to last a few weeks. NASA and Boeing remain committed to ensuring the safety of the astronauts and resolving the mechanical issues before determining a return date.

Boeing has faced several setbacks in recent years, including issues with their 737 MAX planes and a fuselage plug incident earlier this year. Despite these challenges, NASA and Boeing are working diligently to bring the Starliner crew home safely.