NASA and Boeing say Starliner astronauts ‘are not stranded,’ but will be on the ISS for a few more weeks

NASA and Boeing say Starliner astronauts ‘are not stranded,’ but will be on the ISS for a few more weeks

NASA and Boeing plan to spend the next few weeks conducting tests on the ground in order to better understand issues with the Starliner spacecraft’s thrusters before giving its crew the go-ahead to fly back to Earth. But, officials insisted in a Friday afternoon, astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are not “stranded” on the International Space Station. “We’re not in a rush to come home,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner has been docked with the ISS since June 6 for what was meant to be a 10-day flight test all in all. During its approach of the orbiting lab, however, the craft experienced problems with five of its thrusters, and a known helium leak appeared to worsen. NASA and Boeing have been working together to evaluate the issues ever since. On Friday, representatives for the two said they aren’t yet setting a date for the return flight, and will instead wait until the ground tests have been completed and all analyses run. The first thruster tests, which will be conducted at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, are expected to begin as soon as Tuesday.

It was initially stated that Starliner could only stay docked at the ISS for a maximum of 45 days due to limitations with its batteries, but Stich said during the conference that these batteries are being recharged by the space station, so this can be extended. “I want to make it very clear that Butch and Suni are not stranded in space,” Stich said. “Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home at the right time.”

Starliner is performing well while docked, and the craft could still be used as a lifeboat to bring the astronauts home if necessary in the case of an emergency, the officials said. Mark Nappi, VP and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, reiterated Stich’s comments, saying, “We’re not stuck on the ISS, the crew is not in any danger, and there’s no increased risk when we decide to bring Suni and Butch back to Earth.”


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