Boeing’s Starliner and Crew still Unable to Return Home

Even before the latest press conference, news media was speculating that Williams and Wilmore might be stuck aboard the station. It’s a claim that Boeing, in particular, seems to bristle at. “The astronauts are not stranded at the ISS,” read the first line of the company’s statement on the matter, which NPR received on June 26

When Boeing’s Starliner finally took off on its first crewed mission, the capsule experienced helium leaks and thruster problems during the trip. The mission was to send NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station (ISS) for docking and a planned week-long stay.

.Starliner launched June 5 on Crew Flight Test (CFT), carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station The capsule experienced helium leaks and thruster problems during the trip, however, and engineers are still looking into what caused them — which means Starliner hasn’t been cleared for departure yet.

The absolute latest Starliner could return with Wilmore and Williams, according to Stich, would be mid-August. Already they have extended their stay an additional month.

Starliner is designed to remain in space up to 210 days, according to Stich. This test flight was originally supposed to be limited to 45 days, due to the spacecraft’s battery life, but Stich says the space station is recharging the batteries as designed, and NASA is looking to extend that limit. In a real pinch, NASA could use either a SpaceX Dragon capsule or a Russian Soyuz capsule to bring the duo home, but Forczyk doubts that will be necessary.

According to NPR, “We’re not stuck on ISS,” Mark Nappi, Boeing’s vice president for its Commercial Crew Program, told reporters in a news conference on June 28. “The crew is not in any danger and there’s no increased risk when we decide to bring Suni and Butch back to Earth.”

Astronauts were supposed to launch last year, but problems caused repeated delays. Boeing found issues with the parachute system that would allow them to float back to Earth, and tape used to hold wiring that posed a potential fire risk. Fixing both issues pushed back the launch to this spring. Finally, Williams and Wilmore were strapped in on May 6, when more problems appeared — a stuck valve on the rocket launching Starliner had to be replaced, and mission engineers discovered the Starliner itself was leaking helium.