The two NASA astronauts who are flying the Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test said today they are fully confident that the spacecraft can bring them safely home. Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are enjoying an extended stay aboard the International Space Station while NASA and Boeing conduct ground tests to determine why several thrusters failed and helium leaks occurred on the way to the ISS a month ago. NASA and Boeing insist Starliner can bring them home anytime, but they want to keep the capsule in space a while longer in case in-orbit tests also are needed.

Butch and Suni participated in a brief news conference from the ISS where they expressed enthusiasm about Starliner’s capabilities. Both are experienced NASA astronauts and Navy test pilots who have been eagerly awaiting this chance to test out Boeing’s commercial crew spacecraft after years of delays.

Suni Williams (L) and Butch Wilmore (R) aboard the International Space Station answer questions from reporters, July 10, 2024. Screengrab.

The duo lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on June 5 and spent the next 24 hours enroute to the ISS. Although Starliner can operate entirely autonomously, astronauts also can control it manually and Butch and Suni did a number of tests during that time.

Wilmore enthused the “truly amazing” precision with which he could control the spacecraft early on, but later five of the 28 Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters stopped working when software “deselected” them. Four later came back online, but one will not be used for the rest of the mission.  At the same time, four more helium leaks were detected once Starliner was in orbit in addition to one that was discovered before liftoff.

NASA and Boeing are trying to figure out what happened and are conducting tests on the ground. The crew was supposed to visit ISS for only 8 days, but their return has been repeatedly delayed and for now there is no set date for them to land.

NASA and Boeing are confident Starliner is perfectly capable of bringing them home anytime, but the extended mission and lack of a return date has prompted headlines that Butch and Suni are “stranded” in orbit.

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