Advertisement

NASA astronauts say they are confident in Boeing Starliner abilities despite spacecraft's issues

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft docks to the Harmony module's forward port as the International Space Station orbits 263 miles above the Mediterranean Sea. File Photo courtesy of NASA/UPI
1 of 3 | The Boeing Starliner spacecraft docks to the Harmony module's forward port as the International Space Station orbits 263 miles above the Mediterranean Sea. File Photo courtesy of NASA/UPI | License Photo

July 10 (UPI) -- NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams said during a Wednesday press conference that they're confident the troubled Boeing Starliner spacecraft can carry them safely back home to Earth.

"We're absolutely confident," Wilmore said. He said a sheltering procedure test inside Starliner went well. It was conducted to determine if astronauts could quickly disconnect from the space station and shelter in the Starliner if needed.

Advertisement

Williams said, "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."

The NASA astronauts said they expect a return trip after thruster testing is finished at NASA's testing facility in New Mexico. Their original planned space station mission was supposed to last eight days and was to have ended June 14.

Advertisement

Despite the helium leaks and thruster failures, both Wilmore and Williams expressed confidence in Starliner's ability to get them home.

Williams said during the press conference from space on Wednesday that she and Wilmore have been through many simulations that have made her believe if they had to "we could get in our spacecraft, we could undock, talk to our team and figure out the best way to come home."

Wilmore began the news conference describing what the mission was like.

"Launch was spectacular, truly amazing," he said. "And then we got into our operational capabilities checks and the spacecraft performed unbelievably well. It was truly amazing the precision that this spacecraft held."

"And then we got into day two, the start of day two, it was the same starting off and then we did have some failures as we are all aware. We lost an RSS jet and then we lost another one and then you could tell thrust, the control, the capability was degraded. The handling qualities were not the same," he said.

Wilmore said he was thankful that they had practiced and gotten certified for manual control of the Starliner and the astronauts took over manual control for over an hour at one point.

Advertisement

And Wilmore said even with the degraded thrusters, Starliner "came right down the middle" during docking.

Williams said that, once they got onto the space station, "We still had a lot of checks for Starliner and those all went really well. One of them was practicing for a safe haven to make sure that we had all the emergency equipment that's laid out that we need to have to get into our spacecraft use it as a safe haven in case something happens to the International Space Station."

She said there were a couple of other tests with habitability to make sure that the spacecraft is ready to support four people.

She said they also grabbed a couple ISS crew members to come in there with them and go through all of the actions as well as checking out the environmental control system.

"So we are really satisfied with putting more people in the spacecraft once we get back and work through all the issues that we've found already," Williams added.

She reiterated that this was a test flight and the astronauts were expecting to find some issues.

"So we are finding some stuff and we're correcting it," Williams said. " And we're making changes, making updates with our control team."

Advertisement

She said every day during the mission they've had conferences to go over things that they found or thought about or might add for the next flight.

Williams said they've been integrated right into expedition 71 on the space station and they've been doing science for that, and some major maintenance that's been waiting for awhile, too.

She said that included work on a urine pump to remove a pump and put it into a good body. She said they called it "Frankenpump."

She said she did some gene sequencing and Wilmore did some experiments with the moon microscope.

She said they also used a couple ISS crew members to enter the Starliner capsule and go through all of the actions, as well as checking out the environmental control system, needed by the spacecraft in unique situations.

"So we are really satisfied with putting more people in the spacecraft once we get back and work through all the issues that we've found already," Williams said.

Asked if they had any qualms about returning to Earth aboard Starliner, Williams said, "I have confidence. Butch has confidence. We're here on the space station with our safe haven of Starliner."

She said she and Wilmore are having a great time on the space station and are not complaining that they are away from Earth for extra weeks.

Advertisement

Williams said during hurricane Beryl the astronauts were able to take pictures of the eye and see the definition of the eye of that storm.

She said in Houston, "Power was lost and trees are down, but we're a big team and everybody pulls together in Texas."

Asked if they were confident that Starliner is fit and solid for future missions, Wilmore said, 'Failure is not an option." He said issues with spacecraft on test flights is expected, but he trusts the team they are working with to correct the issues.

Both Navy veterans, Wilmore and Williams arrived at the ISS on June 5 on Boeing's Starliner on a test flight and were expected to fly home on the spaceship a week later. Since then, the Starliner has developed several technical issues, leaving the astronauts with no way home.

The issues include helium leaks and a thruster issue that could make getting back to Earth a hazardous adventure.

NASA said the space station has more than enough supplies for them and the current ISS residents, the crew of Expedition 71.

"NASA and Boeing continue to evaluate Starliner's propulsion system performance and five small helium leaks in the spacecraft's service module, gathering as much data as possible while docked to the International Space Station," NASA said in a statement.

Advertisement

"Once all the necessary ground testing and associated data analysis is complete, leaders from NASA and Boeing will conduct an agency-level review before returning from the orbiting complex."

Latest Headlines