NASA Astronauts’ Space Station Stay Extended Due to Spacecraft Issues

NASA’s Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will have to spend another week aboard the ISS as experts struggle to fix their spacecraft

Two NASA astronauts are stranded aboard the International Space Station after their spacecraft, a Boeing Starliner, encountered technical difficulties. The two scientists, who traveled to the station on June 6, were originally scheduled for a one-week stay.

During a press conference on Tuesday, NASA and Boeing announced that the two Americans – Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore – will not be returning to Earth before June 26 as experts work to resolve the spacecraft issues.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner initially experienced several mechanical problems during its inaugural manned launch on June 6. While en route to the station, the crew reported malfunctions with five thrusters and four helium leaks, with an additional leak being discovered shortly after. Before the flight, the company acknowledged a “small helium leak” but maintained that it wasn’t a critical “safety of flight issue” and could be managed.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich explained on Tuesday that the delay is due to the agency’s desire “to give our teams a little bit more time to look at the data, do some analysis, and make sure we’re really ready to come home.”

Stitch also reassured that NASA does not anticipate a scenario where the two astronauts would be unable to return home on the Starliner. The return trip is currently set for June 26, with the crew aiming to land in the White Sands area of New Mexico. If landing proves unsuccessful, the next “prime opportunity” would be a week later on July 2.

Despite the extended delay, NASA’s Dana Weigel, who manages the agency’s ISS program, said the crew remains optimistic. Boeing’s vice president and program manager for the Commercial Crew Program, Mark Nappi, also stated that the crew is capitalizing on the extra time and views the situation as an “opportunity” to accomplish more work.