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July 11, 2024

NASA Astronauts Confident in Boeing Starliner Despite Technical Issues

During a Wednesday press conference, NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams expressed their confidence in the Boeing Starliner spacecraft's ability to safely return them to Earth, despite the spacecraft's recent issues.

"We're absolutely confident," Wilmore stated. He explained that a recent sheltering procedure test inside Starliner was successful, demonstrating that astronauts could quickly disconnect from the space station and take refuge in Starliner if necessary.

Williams echoed this sentiment: "I feel confident that, if we had to, if there was a problem with the International Space Station, we would get in the Starliner spacecraft, undock, talk to our team, and figure out the best way to come home."

The astronauts anticipate their return once thruster testing is completed at NASA's facility in New Mexico. Their original mission was to last eight days and end on June 14. Despite helium leaks and thruster failures, both Wilmore and Williams remain confident in Starliner's performance.

Williams highlighted their extensive simulation training, which has reinforced her belief in the spacecraft's capabilities. "We've been through many simulations that have made me believe if we had to, we could get in our spacecraft, undock, talk to our team, and figure out the best way to come home."

Wilmore described the mission's progress: "Launch was spectacular, truly amazing. The spacecraft performed unbelievably well during operational checks. However, on day two, we experienced some failures. We lost two RSS jets, which degraded the spacecraft's handling qualities."

Fortunately, the astronauts were prepared for manual control, and Wilmore took over for over an hour. Even with degraded thrusters, Starliner managed to dock successfully.

Williams noted the continued checks on Starliner after docking, including practicing emergency procedures and ensuring the spacecraft could support four people. "We are really satisfied with putting more people in the spacecraft once we get back and work through all the issues that we've found already," she said.

She emphasized that finding and correcting issues is part of the test flight process. "Every day, we've had conferences to go over things we found or thought about. We are finding some stuff and correcting it."

Williams also mentioned their integration into Expedition 71 on the space station, conducting science experiments and major maintenance tasks. She detailed work on a urine pump and gene sequencing, while Wilmore worked on the moon microscope.

Both astronauts have enjoyed their extended stay on the ISS, with Williams noting they took pictures of Hurricane Beryl's eye. Despite challenges on Earth, such as power outages in Houston, the team remains resilient.

When asked about their confidence in Starliner for future missions, Wilmore responded, "Failure is not an option." He acknowledged that issues are expected during test flights but trusts the team to resolve them.

Wilmore and Williams, both Navy veterans, arrived at the ISS on June 5 aboard Starliner for a test flight, initially scheduled to return a week later. However, technical issues, including helium leaks and a thruster problem, delayed their return.

NASA has assured that the space station has sufficient supplies for the astronauts and the Expedition 71 crew. "NASA and Boeing continue to evaluate Starliner's propulsion system performance and five small helium leaks in the spacecraft's service module, gathering as much data as possible while docked to the International Space Station," NASA stated.

"Once all necessary ground testing and data analysis is complete, leaders from NASA and Boeing will conduct an agency-level review before returning from the orbiting complex," NASA added.

Despite the delays and technical issues, the astronauts remain optimistic about Starliner's future and their safe return to Earth.