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Boeing Starliner return to Earth delayed again, no date set

Midhat Fatimah
June 22, 2024

The Starliner crew test mission was initially set to last for around eight days. NASA said the delay was to allow more time for review of technical issues.

Boeing Starliner as it prepares to dock with the ISS
The crew of US astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, lifted off on June 5Image: NASA/AP/picture alliance

NASA and Boeing have decided to indefinitely postpone the return of the Starliner spacecraft from the International Space Station (ISS) to Earth, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

The two-astronaut mission, known as Crew Flight Test (CFT), was set to return to Earth on June 26. It had been initially set to last about eight days but was later extended.

When will Boeing Starliner return to Earth?

"We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process," said Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

The mission managers are assessing future return options following the station's two planned spacewalks on Monday, June 24, and Tuesday, July 2, according to NASA. 

"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," Stitch said, assuring that the Starliner is performing well in orbit while docked to the space station. 

According to NASA's statement, 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."

What space exploration missions await us in 2024?

Why is the crew test important?

This is the first time the Boeing spacecraft was launched with a crew. The launch with US astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams was a final step for the Starliner to obtain routine flight certification from NASA.

Before the crewed test, the spacecraft had been sent to space twice since 2019.

However, the crewed test has seen five failures of its 28 maneuvering thrusters, and five leaks of helium gas among other problems, raising questions about the return date of Starliner's astronauts to home. 

Boeing's Starliner capsule atop an Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on a mission to the International Space Station, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Florida
The spaceship blasted off from Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Altas V rocket on June 5 following years of delays and safety scaresImage: John Raoux/AP Photo/picture alliance

Once Starliner gets approval for routine flights, it will become the second US spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to and from the ISS. Currently, SpaceX's Crew Dragon is NASA's only space capsule that conducts regular rides with crew to the ISS.

This article was written in part with material from Reuters news agency.

Edited by: Farah Bahgat