'We’re not stuck.' Why Boeing’s Starliner isn’t returning to Earth (yet)

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2024-07-04 02:00:04

When astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on June 5, they thought they’d be back in plenty of time for the Juneteenth holiday.

The two were test-driving Boeing’s newest spaceship, called Starliner. All they had to do was put it through its paces, dock briefly with the International Space Station (ISS), and come home. The entire mission was supposed to last around a week.

“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.”

The development of Starliner has not gone smoothly. During its first test flight in 2019, which didn’t have people on board, it failed to reach its expected orbit. The problem was later traced to an onboard clock that was set incorrectly — causing the Starliner’s thrusters to fire at the wrong time.

Starliner never made it to the ISS on that trip, and NASA required a second test flight without any astronauts. When it launched again in 2022, two thrusters on Starliner failed to fire as expected. It successfully switched to backup thrusters and docked to the space station.

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