NASA again postpones return of Boeing Starliner crew from space

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NASA and Boeing have once again postponed the return of the Starliner from the International Space Station (ISS), as the two-person crew completes a full review of the spacecraft’s technical issues.

The mission, Boeing’s first manned space launch, was originally set to last nine days.

For now, it is unclear exactly when flight commander Butch Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams will make their return from space. The agency did indicate that they are evaluating dates after the station’s two planned space walks on June 24 and July 2.

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, wrote in a statement. “We are letting the data drive our decision making relative to managing the small helium system leaks and thruster performance we observed during rendezvous and docking.”

The Calypso capsule has experienced helium leaks and thruster issues since it launched into space on June 5 after numerous delays. When it attempted to dock on the ISS, four out of 28 thrusters went down, and the landing was delayed. Now, only one thruster remains dead.

This Starliner mission was intended to be the cap of a decades-long effort from Boeing to engineer missions to space using its spacecraft. The test flight in question was the final step for the company to begin ferrying astronauts to and from the space station.

The issues Boeing now faces with the spacecraft spells further trouble for the company. A successful test flight was expected to be a win after years riddled with controversy surrounding the Boeing 737 Max airliner.

Boeing and its main competitor, SpaceX, have been competing in a privatized space race since NASA picked the two companies in 2014 to manufacture spacecraft that would be responsible for transporting U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS. SpaceX launched its first successful crewed mission, Dragon, in 2020, and has since carried out nine missions with the agency

NASA originally awarded $2.6 billion to Space X and $4 billion to Boeing for their respective programs. Since then, Boeing has spent $1.5 billion in cost overruns, according to Reuters.

The astronauts were set to return June 26, already a 12-day pushback from the original planned date of June 14.

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