The “cursed” Starliner: astronauts stuck in space

NASA astronauts Sweeney Williams and Butch Wilmore are still on the International Space Station after being transported there last month by a Boeing Starliner spacecraft. Unfortunately, several technical problems have postponed their return indefinitely. Williams and Wilmore were originally scheduled to return on June 14, but NASA has not yet announced a new return date.

Boeing Starliner astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sweeney Williams inside the lobby between the front port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module and the spacecraft. Photo: NASA

Former astronaut Terry Wirths believes that the delay aboard the orbital outpost may actually be a blessing rather than a curse. “They’ll get a few bonus weeks in space, which can be helpful because you never know when the next flight is going to happen,” said Wirths. He also noted that the rest of the station’s crew is happy to have the extra help.

Not stuck, but delayed

The space agency claims that the astronauts are not technically stuck in space, although their return is indeed delayed. “So far, we don’t see any scenario in which the Starliner can’t get Butch and Sweeney home,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial flight program manager.

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

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft has faced years of delays and budget overruns, complicating efforts to create an alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has been successfully used to transport astronauts. Wirths emphasized that this is normal, given that the last Starliner flight was a test flight.

Emergency rescue

In 2015, Wirths had to postpone his return from the International Space Station due to the accident of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He explained that postponing flights may be necessary to thoroughly investigate technical problems for the safety of the crew.

Wirths believes that in case of an emergency, astronauts can return to Earth using a capsule. He noted that the delay gives engineers time to analyze the data, which will help them understand the problems with helium and jet engines. After returning to Earth, this data will not be available.

“I would just say: “Enjoy the moment”. Astronauts will not sit idle, and NASA will find plenty of work for them,” Wirths advised Wilmore and Williams.

Earlier, we reported how astronauts saw the Starliner flight against the backdrop of the aurora borealis.

Based on materials from