Stuck in space: Starliner crew return postponed indefinitely

Two astronauts traveling on the Boeing Starliner still remain aboard the International Space Station due to problems with the capsule. However, Boeing says the astronauts aren’t stuck, according to the Associated Press.

Boeing Starliner docked to the ISS – view from the window. Photo: NASA

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams were scheduled to return home on the Boeing Starliner on June 14. But their return flight was repeatedly postponed due to various technical problems with the spacecraft. Three potential landing dates have been canceled, and now the astronauts’ return home is on indefinite hold altogether.

The most serious of the identified problems: inoperative engines and helium leaks. NASA reports that personnel are actively working to analyze these problems. Once the analysis is complete, a new date for the astronauts’ flight will be determined, but there is no specific timeline yet.

“I want to make it very clear that Butch and Suni are not stranded in space,” said NASA Commercial Flight Program Manager Steve Stich.

The Starliner spacecraft is docked to the Harmony module as the International Space Station orbits 400 kilometers above the Mediterranean coast near Egypt. Author: NASA 

Starliner should complement SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in transporting astronauts to and from the space station. NASA has allocated 4.2 billion dollars to Boeing for the development of Starliner. This flight was the first manned flight that had experienced numerous delays due to technical problems over the previous years.

The problems with the spacecraft coincided with Boeing’s recent troubles in airplane production, where serious quality control deficiencies were discovered. While these problems are not directly related to the spacecraft, the situation is indicative of general difficulties in the company.

The astronauts remain on the station while NASA and Boeing work to resolve the problems, and it is not yet known when they will be able to return home. 

Earlier we reported on how astronauts saw a Starliner flight against the background of aurora.