Starliner Crisis: NASA Considers Alternatives as Astronauts Face Extended Stay in Space

Cape Canaveral, Florida – NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, clad in Boeing spacesuits, embarked from Kennedy Space Center towards Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on June 5, 2024, to board the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the Crew Flight Test launch.

Given the prolonged stay of NASA astronauts at the International Space Station, agency leadership is contemplating potential alternatives to Boeing’s Starliner for the crew’s return to Earth. However, officials emphasized that Boeing’s spacecraft remains the primary option for their return.

The Starliner capsule named “Calypso” could potentially return by the end of the month following an extended stay at the ISS, pending the results of testing on a faulty propulsion system. This mission marks the inaugural voyage with Starliner carrying astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams from NASA.

During a press conference, NASA’s Commercial Crew manager Steve Stich highlighted that the priority remains to return the astronauts on Starliner, with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon held as a contingency plan. While preparations are in place for any eventuality, there are currently no plans to dispatch another Dragon capsule to rescue the Starliner crew.

Boeing and NASA have initiated testing of the spacecraft’s thruster technology in White Sands, New Mexico, to address an issue stemming from the spacecraft’s docking maneuver at the ISS. The ground tests aim to ensure the thrusters are functioning optimally before the anticipated return of Starliner in late July.

Both Wilmore and Williams expressed confidence in returning aboard Starliner during discussions with the press from the ISS. The Crew Flight Test is a crucial step before NASA certifies Boeing for operational missions lasting up to six months starting as early as February.

Despite facing setbacks and delays, Starliner aims to establish itself as a reliable mode of transportation for NASA astronauts, complementing SpaceX’s Dragon missions to the ISS. The collaborative efforts between NASA and Boeing continue to push forward in preparation for future crewed missions to space.