Stuck in space, NASA astronauts confident of Boeing capsule's safe Earth return; Sunita Williams has this to say

Jul 11, 2024

Washington DC [US] July 11 : NASA astronauts Sunita 'Suni' Williams and Barry 'Butch' Wilmore who travelled to the International Space Station on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft and were supposed to have returned to Earth last month might have to remain in space a few weeks longer till August this year.
As engineers continue to sort out technical issues that has kept the duo in space longer than scheduled, Williams and Wilmore spoke to reporters in their first press conference from space.
The Starliner had experienced a series of delays during its launch caused by safety concerns due to faulty thrusters and a series of helium leaks. Williams and Wilmore are the first human crew on the historic test mission of the Boeing-built Starliner capsule.
The two astronauts have expressed confidence that the Starliner can get them back to Earth. NASA has, however, not shared a projected return date for the astronauts.
"I feel confident that, if we had to, if there was a problem with the International Space Station, we would get in (the Starliner spacecraft) and we could undock, talk to our team, and figure out the best way to come home," Williams said as per a CNN report.
"We're absolutely confident," Wilmore said of Starliner's capability to get them home, the US broadcaster said.
"I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem," Williams told reporters from the ISS.
Williams said that it was great to be back in the orbiting laboratory and it feels like home to them. "I'm not complaining, Butch isn't complaining, that we're here for a couple of extra weeks." This is third foray into space of the Indian-origin NASA astronaut.
Wilmore and Williams launched on June 5, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida for NASA's Boeing Crew Flight Test mission.
They docked to the orbiting ISS laboratory on June 6 and are on the station as they test Starliner and its subsystems as the next steps in the spacecraft's certification for rotational missions as part of the NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Williams said that she and Wilmore have joined the seven astronauts already on board the International Space Station to help with regular tasks.
"We've been doing science for them, maintenance, some major maintenance that it's been waiting for a little while, like stuff that's been on the books for a little bit," Williams said as cited by CNN.
The Starliner is intended to offer NASA a second private commercial crew alternative for the transportation of astronauts in lower Earth orbit to Elon Musk owned SpaceX's Dragon capsule.
Meanwhile, Williams and Wilmore who are on their 35th day in space which is continuing its testing in space and on the ground to support future long-duration missions.
The US Navy veterans told reporters they've been doing science and maintenance on the ISS since they arrived. They fixed the station's urine processor with a new pump brought up on Starliner and Williams said she performed gene sequencing and Wilmore conducted experiments with a 3-D printed moon microscope.
"We've been thoroughly busy up here," said Williams adding that they have been integrated into the ISS crew that they have dubbed as "Expedition 71-plus."
The Expedition 71 crew of NASA astronauts on board the ISS include Michael Barratt, Matt Dominick, Tracy C. Dyson, and Jeanette Epps, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Nikolai Chub, Alexander Grebenkin, and Oleg Kononenko.
Both Boeing and SpaceX received funding from NASA's Commercial Crew program in 2014 to carry astronauts to the ISS after the US space agency retired its Space Shuttle Program in 2011.
Boeing received over USD 4 billion in US federal funds to develop the Starliner, while SpaceX received about USD 2.6 billion.
SpaceX company's Crew Dragon has performed 12 crewed missions to the ISS since its first launch on May 30, 2020.