Boeing’s Starliner Mission in limbo as NASA plans extension

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Published By : Prameya News Bureau | June 29, 2024 IST

The first crewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, carrying astronauts Sunita "Suni" Williams and Butch Wilmore, is currently in limbo with no exact return date announced

New Delhi, June 29: The first crewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, carrying astronauts Sunita "Suni" Williams and Butch Wilmore, is currently in limbo with no exact return date announced. Initially projected to last only a few days, NASA is now considering extending the mission's duration from 45 days to 90 days, according to CNN.

 

Steve Stich, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, addressed the situation during a briefing on Friday. He mentioned that NASA is looking at the timeline for executing tests in New Mexico and reviewing the data before determining a landing date. "We're not in a rush to come home," Stich stated.

 

The extension consideration comes as Boeing and NASA plan to conduct ground tests to better understand why some of Starliner's thrusters unexpectedly failed during its journey to the International Space Station (ISS) in early June. The spacecraft also faced helium leaks and other issues with its service module. Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, highlighted the importance of conducting tests while Starliner is still in space to narrow down the reasons for the thruster malfunctions.

 

Despite the challenges, the astronauts onboard Starliner have integrated with the ISS crew and are performing routine tasks. Meanwhile, officials are addressing several helium leaks identified during the spacecraft's trip to the ISS. The service module, designed to be jettisoned and destroyed upon reentry, faced multiple issues prompting NASA and Boeing to keep Starliner docked with the ISS for further analysis.

 

NASA has yet to confirm whether the mission will be extended to 90 days. Stich mentioned that the battery life of Starliner must be cleared for the extended duration, though the batteries are currently being recharged at the space station.

 

The spaceflight industry often experiences delays and cost overruns, and Boeing's Starliner program has faced notable challenges compared to SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which has been conducting routine missions since its first test flight in 2020. However, Nappi emphasized that Starliner's test flight has been viewed negatively despite significant achievements.

 

In related ISS activities, the Expedition 71 crew prepared a US cargo craft for disposal, conducted routine maintenance, and engaged in scientific research. NASA astronauts worked on tasks ranging from loading trash into the Cygnus spacecraft to space botany projects and medical examinations.

 

NASA and Boeing are continuing to evaluate Starliner's propulsion system before planning its return to Earth. They are also troubleshooting a water leak in the ISS’s service and cooling umbilical unit, which affected a recent spacewalk.

 

As NASA and Boeing work towards resolving these issues, the Starliner mission's future remains uncertain, with the focus on ensuring astronaut safety and mission success.

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