Sunita Williams' First Message After Starliner Mission Extension Hint

Indian-origin NASA astronaut Sunita Williams shared her confidence about the return journey from space on Wednesday.

Indian-origin NASA astronaut Sunita Williams shared her confidence about the return journey from space on Wednesday. Her statement follows NASA’s consideration of extending the Boeing Starliner’s mission in space by 45 to 90 days.

“I have a strong feeling that this spacecraft will bring us safely home,” said NASA astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams during a live press conference from the International Space Station (ISS). This was the first media briefing since their crew’s arrival at the ISS over a month ago.

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore emphasized their commitment to testing the spacecraft, stating, “Failure is not an option.” Wilmore and Williams were launched aboard the Starliner from Florida on June 5 and docked at the ISS the following day.

“We have complete confidence,” Wilmore assured reporters. “As you’ve heard, failure is not an option.”

“We’re staying here to test it. That’s our mission,” Reuters quoted Wilmore as saying. He noted that ongoing investigations by NASA and Boeing into thruster tests on Earth are critical for their safe return.

Challenges with Boeing Starliner

Boeing’s Starliner, on its maiden space mission, faces technical challenges like helium leaks. The launch experienced over four delays in May and June.

According to Reuters, five of Starliner’s 28 maneuvering thrusters malfunctioned after reaching the station, attributed to a helium gas leak due to a faulty propellant valve.

The success of this test mission is pivotal for Boeing to conduct regular astronaut flights. Currently, SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, is the sole US company conducting manned spaceflights with its Crew Dragon, dominating the market amid Starliner’s developmental setbacks.

Meanwhile, an investigation at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama is underway to determine the cause of helium leaks in Starliner’s propulsion system.

The return of Wilmore and Williams aboard the Starliner hinges on the outcomes of these thruster tests, according to NASA officials.

Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, mentioned on Wednesday that they are proceeding cautiously with testing and that the results from the thruster tests in New Mexico “are not quite as expected.”

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