Boeing Starliner’s return to Earth delayed indefinitely as it troubleshoots glitches

Originally posted at mynorthwest.com

It could be another two weeks before the astronauts on the Boeing Starliner can return to Earth, extending a planned nine-day mission to more than a month.

NASA is troubleshooting a series of Helium leaks and other glitches onboard the capsule.

More on Boeing’s Starliner launchBoeing launches NASA astronauts for the first time after years of delays

“The Boeing-built spacecraft had launched with one small helium leak. Now it has five,” CBS News Space Consultant for CBS News Bill Harwood said. “The Starliner also lost five small maneuvering engines on his final approach to the space station. All but one were recovered, but the glitches convinced NASA to delay Starliner’s return to Earth.”

Flight commander Butch Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams make up Starliner’s two-person crew. The astronauts were initially set to return June 14, but that date was pushed back 12 days to June 26 before further malfunctions arose. Both astronauts are still set to embark on two planned spacewalks — one today, June 24, and another on July 2, according to NASA.

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, wrote in a statement obtained by The Hill. “We are letting the data drive our decision making relative to managing the small helium system leaks and thruster performance we observed during rendezvous and docking.”

NASA stated a potential return won’t come until after July 2. According to NASA, 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.”

“They’re cleared to come home in an emergency or, if they really need to leave right now, they could,” Stich added. “It’s not like they’re stranded on the space station, but NASA just wants to get as much information as they can before the crew comes home.”

The Starliner launch was Boeing’s first foray into space since it was hired alongside Elon Musk’s SpaceX a decade ago to “ferry NASA’s astronauts to and from the space station,” according to The Associated Press. The space agency wanted two competing U.S. companies for the job in the wake of the space shuttles’ retirement, paying $4.2 billion to Boeing and just over half that to SpaceX, which refashioned the capsule it was using to deliver station supplies.

SpaceX launched astronauts into orbit in 2020, becoming the first private business to achieve what only three countries — Russia, the U.S. and China — had mastered. It has taken nine crews to the space station for NASA and three private groups for a Houston company that charters flights.

More on SpaceX: SpaceX accused of unlawfully firing employees who were critical of Elon Musk

NASA was set to alternate between SpaceX and Boeing for taxi flights in 2025 if all goes well, but mounting technical difficulties may cause a change in strategy for NASA.

Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon are designed to be fully autonomous and reusable.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

Comments on this article