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NASA Astronauts Extend Stay Aboard ISS Due to Starliner Capsule Issues

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams embarked on a mission to test Boeing’s new Starliner capsule, expecting to return home from the International Space Station (ISS) within a week. However, their mission has now extended to over three weeks as NASA and Boeing address unexpected equipment problems encountered during the journey.

Three potential landing dates have been canceled, putting the astronauts’ return trip on hold. Boeing has reassured that the Starliner capsule’s problems will not hinder the return journey and emphasized that “the astronauts are not stranded.”

The Extended Stay: Analyzing the Issues

This mission marks the first crewed flight of the Starliner capsule, a significant step for Boeing, which aims to join SpaceX in transporting NASA crews to and from the ISS. NASA is utilizing this extended period to thoroughly analyze issues within the spacecraft’s propulsion system. This system, crucial for in-flight maneuvering, is discarded during reentry and does not return to Earth for inspection.

Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, noted the importance of taking additional time to review all data and maximize learning from the service module while it remains in orbit. Moreover, the space agency decided to delay the departure to avoid conflicting with scheduled spacewalks. One spacewalk was called off due to a water leak in an astronaut’s spacesuit, while another remains on the schedule.

Investigating the Problems

During the docking process, five out of the Starliner’s 28 thrusters malfunctioned. Although most were restarted and functioned during a subsequent test firing, one thruster remains off and is not expected to impact the return trip. Heat generated during the thruster action at docking is suspected to have caused the shutdown.

Additionally, the capsule launched on June 5 with a minor helium leak, which increased to four leaks upon reaching the ISS. Helium pressurizes fuel for the thrusters, and a faulty rubber seal is believed to be the cause. Despite the leaks, Boeing assures that there is a sufficient helium supply and that the leaks are stable and manageable.

Looking Ahead

Boeing and NASA will determine potential landing dates after completing the spacewalks. The Starliner capsule can stay docked at the ISS for 45 days or longer if needed. Meanwhile, mission managers continue to scrutinize the thruster issues and helium leaks to resolve these problems before the next flight.

Wilmore and Williams are contributing to various chores and research tasks at the ISS, along with their primary mission of evaluating the Boeing capsule’s systems. NASA has confirmed there is no urgency for their departure, as there are ample supplies for the astronauts and the seven other residents aboard the space station.

This extended mission provides valuable insights into the Starliner’s performance, ensuring future missions are safer and more efficient for NASA’s astronauts.

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Calvin van der Spuy
Calvin van der Spuy
Calvin van der Spuy, a seasoned journalist with 8 years of experience, has dedicated his career to the relentless pursuit of the unbiased truth. At just 20 years old, Calvin's passion for journalism ignited at a young age, leading him to become a respected voice in the field. With a knack for uncovering stories that matter, Calvin's work is characterized by its integrity and commitment to factual reporting. He brings a fresh perspective to every piece, ensuring that his audience receives well-researched and accurate information. Calvin's dedication to maintaining journalistic standards makes him a valuable asset to any newsroom. In his journey, Calvin has covered a diverse range of topics, from local community issues to international affairs, always striving to shed light on the stories that need to be told. His curiosity and determination drive him to explore every angle, ensuring that no stone is left unturned. When he's not chasing leads or conducting interviews, Calvin enjoys engaging with his community and staying updated on the latest news trends. His friendly demeanor and approachable nature make him a trusted source for reliable news. Calvin van der Spuy continues to inspire with his unwavering commitment to truth and his passion for storytelling. His journey in journalism is a testament to the power of dedication and the importance of seeking the unbiased truth in today's ever-evolving media landscape.