News Brief

Starliner Leak Leaves Sunita Williams Stranded In Space For Over 10 Days: Here's All That We Know So Far

Swarajya Staff

Jun 24, 2024, 03:23 PM | Updated 03:23 PM IST

Astronaut Sunita Williams. (Facebook)
Astronaut Sunita Williams. (Facebook)

Sunita Williams, who was expected to return to Earth on 13 June, has been stranded due to a leak in the Starliner rocket.

The Indian-origin American astronaut, along with her colleague Butch Wilmore, has been at the International Space Station (ISS) for over 10 days.

According to a report from Hindustan Times, despite the leak, NASA and Boeing managers deemed the rocket safe for launch as they thought it was too small to cause any harm to the mission. However, this decision has left the two astronauts stranded at the ISS, as the issue appears more significant than initially thought.

The launch had already been delayed once due to a different leak. Once in orbit, four additional helium leaks developed, rendering one thruster unusable.

NASA's Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, stated, "We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process. 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."

Despite officials asserting that Wilmore and Williams are not stranded and could undock and fly home if necessary, the ongoing tests and issues raise doubts about the Starliner’s ability to make the six-hour return trip safely.

NASA and Boeing managers are allowing engineers as much time as possible to review telemetry, test, and develop contingency plans in case additional problems arise after undocking.

Boeing has faced intense scrutiny over the Starliner’s current situation, adding to the criticism following high-profile malfunctions of its aircraft over the past year.

At least 20 whistleblowers have raised concerns about safety and quality issues at the aerospace giant. Boeing has invested approximately $1.5 billion in cost overruns beyond the initial $4.5 billion contract with NASA, aiming to make Starliner its second mode of transportation to the ISS alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

However, persistent leaks may jeopardise the future of the Starliner program and further tarnish Boeing’s reputation in the aerospace industry.

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