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Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is stuck on the space station

NASA and Boeing engineers continue to examine the helium leak from the spacecraft's engines and now the planned landing date of the Starliner is June 26. The extended crew has enough food, water and other supplies and there is also no urgency to leave the station until August

The Starliner spacecraft in a photo of the Boeing crew test flight docked to the forward port of the Harmony module as the International Space Station orbited 423 km above the Mediterranean Sea. Credit: NASA
The Starliner spacecraft in a photo of the Boeing team's flight test docked to the front port of the "Harmony" module when the International Space Station circled 423 km above the Mediterranean Sea. Credit: NASA

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is stuck at the space station for now as NASA and Boeing adjust the return schedule to address problems with the propulsion system and deal with a conflict with planned spacewalks on the International Space Station.

The delay will allow comprehensive system reviews and tests to be carried out, parallel processes that were also carried out in previous missions. Meanwhile, astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams remain and even work on the space station, equipped with sufficient supplies and there is no urgent need to return to Earth.

As of this writing, the departure date is set for Wednesday, June 26. This is to avoid conflict with a series of planned spacewalks and to allow the mission teams time to review propulsion system data.

Safety reviews

"We're taking advantage of the time and following our standard mission management process," said Steve Stich, NASA's commercial crew program manager. "We let the data guide our decision-making regarding the management of the small leaks from the helium system and the performance of the engines that we observed during approach and docking. In addition, considering the duration of the mission, it is appropriate that we complete an audit at the agency level, similar to what was done before the return of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 after two months in orbit, to document the acceptance of the spacecraft by NASA as planned."

After the completion of the planned audit of readiness, a communications call will be held with mission leadership, and NASA will share the details as they become clear. Boeing's Starliner spacecraft remains ready to return if an emergency occurs on the space station that requires the crew to leave orbit and return to Earth.

"The Starliner is performing well in orbit while docked at the space station," Stitch said. "We are using the extra time to perform some critical activities on the station while completing preparations for Butch and Sonny's return to the Starliner and gaining valuable insights into system upgrades we would like to make for post-commissioning missions."

Wilmore and Williams have since joined the space station's 71st crew, assisting with station operations as needed and completing additional in-flight tasks for NASA certification of the Starliner.

"The feedback from the crew has been positive, and they know that every lesson we learn during the flight will improve and refine our experience for future crews," said Mark Nappi, Boeing's vice president and director of the Starliner program.

The crew is not pressed for time to leave the station as there are more than enough supplies for everyone and the station's schedule is relatively free until mid-August.

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