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Space: Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams ‘stuck’ on the ISS for 2 weeks

Space: Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams ‘stuck’ on the ISS for 2 weeks

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: With NASA conducting additional reviews of the spacecraft’s technical issues, Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams’ return to Earth has been delayed by about two weeks, the media reported on Tuesday.

Sunita Williams and her co-astronaut Butch Wilmore’s return to this planet has been postponed due to multiple technical issues. NASA will permit their return only after the reviews to ensure their safety.

Recently, the ISS hit headlines because of an alleged “superbug.” Sunita was also reported stating that her spacecraft had fuel left only for 27 days.

The astronauts’ return flight, initially planned for June 13, has been postponed at least thrice and NASA gave no new fresh dates for their return.

Delays hit even the liftoff of the spacecraft.

After multiple delays, Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore departed for the ISS aboard Boeing’s Starliner on June 5.

The delay in return flight was attributed to helium leaks discovered on Starliner during its first crewed mission to the ISS. Engineers from Boeing and NASA are addressing the problem to guarantee the astronauts’ safe return.

NASA has reported that the spacecraft is “performing well in orbit while docked to the space station.”

The two astronauts can undock from the ISS and return to Earth if needed. They are not “stranded”, but are staying in orbit beyond their scheduled return to allow mission teams adequate time to analyze propulsion system data.

American periodical Newsweek quoted NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme manager Steve Stich as saying, “We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process.”

“We are letting the data drive our decision-making relative to managing the small helium system leaks and thruster performance,” he added.
As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme, this mission represented the first manned journey for the Starliner spacecraft. It aimed to thoroughly assess the spacecraft’s performance across all phases — from launch and docking to its safe return to Earth in the western United States. After a successful manned test flight, NASA will proceed with the final steps to certify Starliner and its systems for upcoming crewed missions to the space station.

The mission has experienced considerable setbacks over time, coinciding with a difficult phase for Boeing because of safety issues within its commercial aviation sector.

In 2019, an initial unmanned test flight of a capsule veered off course because of a software malfunction, preventing it from reaching the ISS. According to NASA, Boeing’s insufficient safety checks were the reason for the failure.

In 2021, a launch attempt was delayed because of blocked valves. In May 2022, the capsule successfully docked with the ISS during an unmanned mission.

However, subsequent issues arose, including concerns over parachutes and flammable cabin tape. These challenges caused further delays in the crucial crewed test flight needed to certify Starliner for regular NASA missions to the ISS.


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