Sunita Williams's return flight from space unlikely in June, Nasa reveals why

Astronaut Sunita Williams piloted the Boeing Starliner spacecraft on its maiden human space flight along with astronaut Butch Willmore.
Sunita Williams's return flight from space unlikely in June, Nasa reveals why
Jaano Junction

After several cancelled launches, and multiple delays, Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams was launched into space on her third flight in June 2024. However, now that she is in space, her return flight has been marred by a series of delays again.

Astronaut Sunita Williams piloted the Boeing Starliner spacecraft on its maiden human space flight along with astronaut Butch Willmore. The Starliner is currently docked with the Space Station and the two astronauts are integrated with the Expedition 71 crew aboard the flying laboratory.

Nasa and Boeing have once again announced a delay in the return of the Starliner spacecraft from the International Space Station (ISS), originally scheduled for Wednesday, June 26.

The decision to postpone the undocking and landing of the Crew Flight Test vehicle was made to avoid conflicts with planned ISS spacewalks and allow mission teams additional time to review propulsion system data.

Steve Stich, manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew Program, emphasised the importance of a thorough review process, stating, "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".

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Sunita Williams's return flight from space unlikely in June, Nasa reveals why

The agency is also conducting an agency-level review, similar to the one performed before the SpaceX Demo-2 return, to formally document acceptance of the planned procedures.

Despite the delay, the Starliner spacecraft remains cleared for emergency return if necessary. Mission managers are now evaluating future return opportunities following two planned spacewalks on June 24 and July 2.

Stich noted that Starliner is performing well while docked to the ISS, and the extra time is being used strategically to accommodate critical station activities and gain insights for post-certification mission upgrades.

Wilmore and Williams continue to work with the Expedition 71 crew, assisting with station operations and completing additional objectives for Nasa certification of Starliner.

Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Starliner Program, reported positive feedback from the crew, emphasizing that the extended mission will contribute to improved experiences for future crews.

With ample supplies on the ISS and a flexible station schedule through mid-August, there is no urgency for the crew to depart. Nasa will provide updates on the new return timeline following the conclusion of the readiness review.

Source: India Today

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