Sunita Williams stranded in space: ISRO scientist explains how Starliner can return safely, 'Human lives are involved so…'


NASA has postponed the return of the Boeing Starliner to Earth from the International Space Station, carrying its first crew of astronauts — Barry Eugene “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams — to allow more time to review technical problems.

It did not set a new date, raising questions about the timing of the return of two astronauts on Boeing's first manned mission, which had been scheduled for June 26, pushed back from an earlier possible date of June 14.

Commenting on what's next, ISRO scientist Mylswamy Annadurai said, “Any space programme going forward has to see that all systems are ready for the next service. Even while launching, it was observed that there was some delay. After boarding, both of them were taken out. The actual launch happened after ensuring that all the countdowns and everything was fine. Now that the system is fully ready, they can come back.”

He said, “This is part and parcel of the space game… People will not take any step unless they are completely assured, especially when human lives are involved. Things will be taken care of properly…”

Crewed testing of the spacecraft, which has been flown twice since 2019 for testing without a human aboard, has suffered five failures in its 28 maneuvering thrusters, five leaks of helium gas used to pressurize those thrusters and one slow-moving propellant valve, indicating issues that had not been fixed in the past.

The issues and additional testing by NASA and Boeing raise questions about when Starliner’s crew will be able to make the roughly six-hour return trip, and will compound the program’s broader problems.

Boeing has incurred cost overruns of $1.5 billion beyond its $4.5 billion development contract with NASA.

NASA wants Starliner, along with SpaceX's Crew Dragon, to become the second US spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS, its primary transport from 2020.

But Boeing’s Starliner program has been plagued by software glitches, design problems and subcontractor disputes for years.



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