Return of astronauts delayed as Boeing aims to fix Starliner spacecraft

Two American astronauts have been delayed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as engineers try to fix problems with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

Starliner is a joint project between Boeing and the American space agency NASA. of capsule arrived at the ISS on June 6. He had left the day before from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The trip was a test flight that marked the first time the Starliner spacecraft successfully carried astronauts into space. It carried NASA’s Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS. Both were expected to stay in space for about a week.

But problems affecting the Starliner have already caused Boeing and NASA officials to postpone the return trip to Earth several times. Reuters news agency reported that one of its sources with knowledge of flight planning said NASA was targeting a July 6 return date.

Since its takeoff on June 5, Starliner has experienced at least five helium leaks. In addition, some of the capsules Drivers have failed.

NASA would like to use the Starliner to support its future lunar exploration activities as part of its Artemis program. But Boeing has struggled to complete the testing process before receiving approval for repeat trips to the ISS.

Why was the Starliner’s return trip delayed?

NASA wants more time to look into the Starliner’s problems pushing the system. This system is attached to the capsule, but is not designed to be returned to Earth for inspection. Instead, it is ejected during reentry and burns up in the atmosphere.

Steve Stich is NASA’s commercial crew program manager. He explained the delay in the return during a press conference last week. Stich said, “We’re taking a little extra time to review all the data and also learn as much as we can while we have this service. module in orbit.” Starliner’s propulsion system is part of what NASA describes as the spacecraft’s “service module.”

The space agency also noted that it did not want the return flight to conflict with spacewalks. A spacewalk was canceled this week after water leaked from an astronaut’s space suit. At least one more spacewalk is planned.

What problems are still being investigated?

Five of the capsule’s 28 thrusters failed after the Starliner arrived at the ISS. NASA said all but one of the thrusters restarted and were found to be working during a subsequent test firing.

Officials suspect that heat from increased propellant usage upon arrival at the ISS caused the problem. Boeing said a problematic thruster had shut down and would not be a problem for the return trip.

The capsule launched with a small helium leak and four others were detected by the time it reached the ISS. Helium is used to pressurize the fuel for the thrusters. A tire stamp it was suspected to have failed, causing the problem.

What comes next?

Boeing and NASA say they will continue to consider landing dates after the spacewalks are over.

Boeing has said the capsule can stay on the space station for 45 days or longer if necessary. Mission leaders plan to continue to investigate the propellant problem and the helium leaks.

With their extended stay, Wilmore and Williams have helped housework and research in the orbital space laboratory. NASA has said there is no rush for the astronauts to leave and there are enough supplies to support their stay.

During his comments to reporters last week, NASA’s Stich stated the agency’s desire to safely return astronauts as soon as possible. “So far, we haven’t seen any scenario where the Starliner won’t be able to bring Butch and Suni home,” he said.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, NASA and Boeing.

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The words in this story

capsule n. the part of a spacecraft in which people live

impeller – n. an engine that produces thrust by releasing a stream of fluid or a stream of particles

pushing – n. a force that pushes something forward

module – n. part of an object that can operate alone, especially part of a spacecraft

stamp – n. an object of matter that prevents the exit or entry of liquid or aid from a container

daily work – n. a job or task that is necessary but often unpleasant

scenario – n. a possible situation that may develop in the future

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