Boeing’s ISS Return Mission Delayed Indefinitely

( – Two astronauts have had their return flight to Earth postponed a second time. Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams were originally supposed to begin their return from the International Space Station (ISS) on June 14, before the six-hour flight was pushed back to June 26. It has once again been postponed, although this time without a new date in place.

Wilmore and Williams comprise the crew of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which is currently docked on the ISS. They blasted off on June 5 as part of a routine demonstration in order to be granted NASA flight certification. This flight marks the first time the Starliner has been crewed; since 2019 it has been sent twice into space while unmanned.

This latest foray into space has seen the craft beset with difficulties, mostly related to its thrusters. The Starliner has experienced issues with a slow propellor valve, which is indicative of improperly fixed past problems. It has also suffered five failures associated with its 28 thrusters, as well as five helium gas leaks. The helium gas is part of a system designed to stabilize the ship’s thrusters. Four of the five failed thrusters have since been fixed, according to Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Stich remained positive about the crew’s delayed return, saying that the Starliner was “performing well” while docked to the ISS. He added that the extra time spent in space could yield fruitful data for future system upgrades. The Starliner project has had many issues over the years, including software and design issues, as well as disputes with contractors. The initial contract between Boeing and NASA was for $4.5 billion, but Boeing’s costs have so far exceeded this by $1.5 billion.

NASA and Boeing developed the program with the aim of creating a spacecraft that could be used to transport astronauts to and from the ISS. Currently, this work is mainly undertaken by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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