Starliner crew confident spacecraft will bring them safely back to Earth

by | Jul 10, 2024 | Science

The crew of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft said Wednesday they’re confident the capsule will carry them safely back to Earth at the end of their extended stay aboard the International Space Station, despite helium leaks in the ship’s propulsion system and trouble with maneuvering thrusters.Launched June 5, commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams originally expected to spend about eight days in space, putting the Starliner through its paces in the ship’s first piloted test flight.But the helium leaks and thruster issues have prompted NASA to extend their stay aboard the space station indefinitely — Wednesday marked their 35th day in orbit  — while engineers carry out tests and analysis to better understand what caused the problems and to make sure the spacecraft can safely being Wilmore and Williams home. Boeing Starliner astronauts Sunita Williams and Barry In the meantime, NASA insists the crew isn’t “stranded” in space, and both Wilmore and Williams, speaking with reporters for the first time since launch, appeared to agree with that assessment.”I think where we are right now, and what we know right now, and how the spacecraft flew as it was coming in to do the docking, I feel confident that if we had to, if there was a problem with the International Space Station, we can get in our spacecraft and we can undock, talk to our team, and figure out the best way to come home,” Williams said.”I have a real good feeling in my heart that this spacecraft will bring us home, no problem,” she added. “We’re learning now to optimize our specific situation and make sure that we know everything about it.”Asked about his faith in the Starliner, Wilmore said “we’re absolutely confident.””We are actually doing thruster testing as we speak at White Sands, New Mexico, trying to replicate (the problems) we saw when we were rendezvousing,” he said. “And we are going to learn from that. And we’re going to incorporate new processes, new procedures that we will employ if necessary.”But just to be on the safe side, Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said the team has “dusted off” plans originally developed when the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that carried NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the station developed a coolant leak.In that case, preliminary plans were drawn up to possibly bring Rubio down on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule if worse came to worse. As it turned out, the Russians launched a replacement Soyuz and those plans were not needed.”In that case, we decided to use Dragon as a contingency return option for Frank … to use it as a lifeboat,” Stich said. “We had a configuration of Frank in the middeck of Dragon. I mean, certainly we’ve dusted off a few of those things to look at relative to Starliner, just to be prepared.”But again, our prime option is to return Butch on Suni on Starliner. … We’re pretty far away from where we were with the Soyuz. We just want to understand the thrusters a little bit more before we commit to the final undock and return.””Having a great time” in orbit after multiple delaysIn the meantime, Williams said she and Wilmore were enjoying the extra time in space.”We are having a great time here on ISS,” she said. “You know, Butch and I have been up here …

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[mwai_chat context=”Let’s have a discussion about this article:nnThe crew of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft said Wednesday they’re confident the capsule will carry them safely back to Earth at the end of their extended stay aboard the International Space Station, despite helium leaks in the ship’s propulsion system and trouble with maneuvering thrusters.Launched June 5, commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams originally expected to spend about eight days in space, putting the Starliner through its paces in the ship’s first piloted test flight.But the helium leaks and thruster issues have prompted NASA to extend their stay aboard the space station indefinitely — Wednesday marked their 35th day in orbit  — while engineers carry out tests and analysis to better understand what caused the problems and to make sure the spacecraft can safely being Wilmore and Williams home. Boeing Starliner astronauts Sunita Williams and Barry In the meantime, NASA insists the crew isn’t “stranded” in space, and both Wilmore and Williams, speaking with reporters for the first time since launch, appeared to agree with that assessment.”I think where we are right now, and what we know right now, and how the spacecraft flew as it was coming in to do the docking, I feel confident that if we had to, if there was a problem with the International Space Station, we can get in our spacecraft and we can undock, talk to our team, and figure out the best way to come home,” Williams said.”I have a real good feeling in my heart that this spacecraft will bring us home, no problem,” she added. “We’re learning now to optimize our specific situation and make sure that we know everything about it.”Asked about his faith in the Starliner, Wilmore said “we’re absolutely confident.””We are actually doing thruster testing as we speak at White Sands, New Mexico, trying to replicate (the problems) we saw when we were rendezvousing,” he said. “And we are going to learn from that. And we’re going to incorporate new processes, new procedures that we will employ if necessary.”But just to be on the safe side, Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said the team has “dusted off” plans originally developed when the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that carried NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the station developed a coolant leak.In that case, preliminary plans were drawn up to possibly bring Rubio down on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule if worse came to worse. As it turned out, the Russians launched a replacement Soyuz and those plans were not needed.”In that case, we decided to use Dragon as a contingency return option for Frank … to use it as a lifeboat,” Stich said. “We had a configuration of Frank in the middeck of Dragon. I mean, certainly we’ve dusted off a few of those things to look at relative to Starliner, just to be prepared.”But again, our prime option is to return Butch on Suni on Starliner. … We’re pretty far away from where we were with the Soyuz. We just want to understand the thrusters a little bit more before we commit to the final undock and return.””Having a great time” in orbit after multiple delaysIn the meantime, Williams said she and Wilmore were enjoying the extra time in space.”We are having a great time here on ISS,” she said. “You know, Butch and I have been up here …nnDiscussion:nn” ai_name=”RocketNews AI: ” start_sentence=”Can I tell you more about this article?” text_input_placeholder=”Type ‘Yes'”]
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