Boeing Is Struggling to Get Astronauts Home

Starliner astronauts will now return at least 8 days late
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2024 6:24 AM CDT
Starliner's Return to Earth Has Been Delayed, Again
This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of International Space Station with the Boeing Starliner spacecraft, Friday, June 7, 2024.   (Satellite image ?2024 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Ground Control had news for Captains Butch and Suni this week. Their return from the International Space Station, initially scheduled for June 18 and later pushed back to June 22, has been delayed until June 26. Their return on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft has been held up by the same issues that repeatedly delayed the launch and delayed docking when it arrived at the ISS on June 6, CNN reports. NASA officials say they are taking time to investigate helium leaks and thruster issues while it is still possible to do so. Officials have said they expected to find issues during the spacecraft's first crewed spaceflight.

The issues occurred in the service module, a part of the spacecraft not expected to survive the return to Earth. "We're taking our extra time given that this is a crewed vehicle, and we want to make sure that we haven't left any stone unturned," Steve Stich, NASA's commercial crew program manager, said Tuesday, per the Washington Post. "We really want to work through the remainder of the data," he said. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams have spent their time on the ISS preparing for their return and working with other astronauts.

Starliner is designed for future six-month missions but it can stay docked to the ISS for a maximum of 45 days during this one, reports Reuters. Michael Lembeck, director of the Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois, tells CNN that if there are more setbacks, Boeing might have to rely on rival SpaceX to bring the astronauts home. "The embarrassing backup is that a Crew Dragon would have to go and retrieve the astronauts," he says. (More Starliner stories.)

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