NASA-Boeing Starliner's launch was 'spectacular,' mission went as planned until day 2, astronauts say


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The NASA astronauts on Boeing’s Starliner said takeoff was “spectacular,” but the spacecraft suffered a series of issues during day two of the mission.

There were helium leaks in the propulsion system, and the thrusters’ “control and capability degraded,” said NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, who spoke to the media from space on Wednesday for the first time since the June 5 takeoff.

He stood beside his Starliner flight crewmate, astronaut Suni Williams, during Wednesday’s video press conference from inside the International Space Station, where the craft has been docked for the last month. 

“We’ve been through a lot of simulations for this spacecraft to go through all sorts of iterations and failures, and I think where we are right now and what we know right now … I feel confident,” Williams said. “I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home with no problem.”

STARLINER WAS ASTRONAUTS’ ‘LIFEBOAT’ IF SHATTERED RUSSIAN SATELLITE HIT SPACE STATION

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore were the flight crew on Boeing's Starliner capsule, which is recovering from a series of issues.

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore were the flight crew on Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which is recovering from a series of issues. (NASA)

There was initial fear that the astronauts were stranded in space, but Boeing and NASA officials stressed Wilmore and Williams are safe and “in good spirits.”

At the end of the 30-minute press conference, Williams was doing backflips while Wilmore laughed. 

TAKE COVER: A RUSSIAN SATELLITE IMPLODES

The questions were more serious, but both astronauts expressed their confidence in being able to return home safely. 

Wilmore alluded to the defunct Russian satellite that exploded about two weeks ago near the space station, and said they were in Starliner, ready to make an emergency exit, if needed. 

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams during NASA's live shot of their takeoff on June 5, 2024.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams during NASA’s live shot of their takeoff on June 5, 2024. (NASA)

Astronaut Suni Williams does backflips while Astronaut Butch Wilmore laughs and gives a thumbs up.

Astronaut Suni Williams does backflips while Astronaut Butch Wilmore laughs and gives a thumbs up. (NASA)

Wilmore said kinks were expected during the mission, saying, “This is the world of test. This is a tough business.”

“Human spaceflight is not easy in any regime, and there have been multiple issues with every spacecraft that’s ever been designed, and that’s just the nature of what we do,” Wilmore said. “You know that mantra, ‘Failure is not an option.’ 

BOEING DISCUSSES WHY ASTRONAUTS REMAIN IN SPACE

“That’s why we are staying here now. We did have some degradation in our thrusters, and we know that. And that’s why we’re staying, because we’re going to test it.”

“We’re going to get the data that we need to help inform our decisions so we make the right decisions.”

Boeing's Starliner capsule in low orbit before it reaches the International Space Space for the first time with a manned crew.

Boeing’s Starliner capsule in low orbit before it reaches the International Space Station for the first time with a manned crew. (NASA/YouTube)

Starliner docking to the International Space Station.

Starliner docking to the International Space Station. (NASA)

The mission and its importance

Boeing and the Elon Musk-funded SpaceX programs are pivotal players in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which would allow NASA to send astronauts and cargo to the space station without relying on Russia.

The CCP started under former President Obama in 2010, a year before NASA retired the space shuttle after 30 years. 

WHAT WAS THAT? SPACE DEBRIS CRASHES ON MOUNTAIN RESORT

To get cargo and astronauts to the space station, the U.S. has relied on Russia, spending about $90 million per astronaut for each round trip. 

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts with NASA after a lengthy competition, bringing the average cost down to under $70 million per astronaut. 

Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon are vastly different rockets.

Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are vastly different rockets. (NASA)

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SpaceX has had multiple successful manned launches since its first in 2020.

Starliner’s June 5 launch was Boeing’s first manned expedition to the space station.



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