Home Uncategorized Astronaut Sunita Williams’ Return From Space Delayed Due To Spacecraft Glitches

Astronaut Sunita Williams’ Return From Space Delayed Due To Spacecraft Glitches


Astronaut Sunita Williams' Return From Space Delayed Due To Spacecraft Glitches

The American space agency NASA has confirmed that the return of Indian origin astronaut Sunita Williams from the International Space Station (ISS) has been further delayed and no new date has been set for her “happy landing”.

This comes as the spacecraft in which she travelled to space, the Boeing Starliner, has been facing a series of glitches. Sunita Williams and her co-passenger Butch Wilmore are both safe on the ISS along with the seven other crew members who inhabit the “mini-city in space” – the ISS.

Riding atop the Boeing Starliner on its maiden mission, Ms Williams reached the ISS on June 5 on what was to be possibly a 10-day mission but since then it has been extended twice thanks to issues with the small rockets that help the crew module return to Earth, and a series of Helium leaks that bedevil the Boeing Starliner on its first crewed flight.

NASA says the crew is not pressed for time to leave the station since there are plenty of supplies in orbit, and the station’s schedule is relatively open through mid-August.

Initially, Ms Williams was to return potentially on June 14, this was scrapped and a new date June 26 was set by NASA, this has also been postponed and a new date has not been announced yet.

“NASA and Boeing leadership are adjusting the return to Earth of the Starliner Crew Flight Test spacecraft with agency astronauts. The move off Wednesday, June 26, deconflicts Starliner’s undocking and landing from a series of planned International Space Station spacewalks while allowing mission teams time to review propulsion system data,” a statement said.

Five of the 28 thrusters on the Boeing Starliner are having issues and there have been five Helium leaks on the space craft. Experts say a minimum of 14 thrusters are required for a safe return.

Boeing says, “Starliner has completed 77 of the original 87 flight-test objectives, with the remaining 10 will occur between undocking and landing.”

NASA says mission managers are evaluating future return opportunities following the station’s two planned spacewalks on Monday, June 24, and Tuesday, July 2. So it could well be nearly a month long stay for Ms Williams in space on her third mission to space.

“Starliner is performing well in orbit while docked to the space station,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program

“We are strategically using the extra time to clear a path for some critical station activities while completing readiness for Butch and Suni’s return on Starliner and gaining valuable insight into the system upgrades we will want to make for post-certification missions.”

Boeing has faced several hiccups in the Starliner development and initially it was to have completed this with a $4.2 billion contract but has now spent a total of about $ 5.7 billion and the going is still uphill as the mission remains incomplete.

NASA wanted a second alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and hence Boeing Starliner was being pushed through. Boeing is going through a bad patch in general and its aviation and aircraft business has also been stumbling.

NASA says Wilmore and Williams remain integrated with the Expedition 71 crew, assisting with station operations as needed and completing add-on in-flight objectives for NASA certification of Starliner.

Ms Williams is a qualified navy test pilot she had flown twice earlier to space in 2006 and 2012 and according to data from NASA, before this Starliner mission Sunita has already spent a cumulative total of 322 days in space.

“With seven space walks totalling 50 hours and 40 minutes, Sunita held the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut but that has since been overtaken by Peggy Whitson with 10 spacewalks.”

Ms Williams has helped design the Boeing Starliner so she should be familiar with all its details.

Such Delays Not Unforeseen on Maiden Missions

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” said Stich.

“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. Additionally, given the duration of the mission, it is appropriate for us to complete an agency-level review, similar to what was done ahead of the NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return after two months on orbit, to document the agency’s formal acceptance on proceeding as planned.”

Meanwhile, the space fairing community prays for the safe return of Ms Williams and Mr Wilmore, but it could be embarrassing for Boeing if SpaceX’s Crew Dragon were to be used to rescue the astronauts stuck at the space station.

“The crew’s feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and they know that every bit of learning we do on the Crew Flight Test will improve and sharpen our experience for future crews,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Starliner Program.

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