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NASA astronauts ‘STRANDED’ in space due to malfunctioning Boeing Starliner – as experts say SpaceX could perform a rescue mission

NASA has postponed the return of two astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) for the third time amid concerns the crew could be ‘stranded’.

Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams were initially scheduled for a nine-day stay, which was postponed twice this month and is now at an undetermined date.

The extended stay is intended to allow more time to assess technical issues the capsule encountered during its journey to the ISS, including thrust issues and leaking valves, Boeing said in a statement.

DailyMail.com spoke to experts who said NASA could be forced to launch a rescue mission, and could call on Elon Musk’s SpaceX to carry it out.

NASA astronauts STRANDED in space due to malfunctioning Boeing Starliner

Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams were initially scheduled to stay for nine days, but NASA revealed that this has now been pushed to an unspecified date

Katsuo Kurabayashi, a professor of aerospace engineering at New York University, said: ‘Given the current situation with the Starliner, it is possible that NASA could decide to use an alternative spacecraft, such as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to get the astronauts home safely .

“As far as I can judge at this time, the recent delay of the mission to July alone should not raise serious concerns that would lead to another highly challenging rescue mission or the future abandonment of Starliner-based missions.”

“But if by any chance they start talking about a rescue mission, that would indicate that some serious, potentially life-threatening hardware flaws have been found on Starliner.”

The astronauts’ return was first postponed to June 14 and last week it was moved to June 26.

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NASA indicated its staff was evaluating return dates after the station’s two planned spacewalks on June 24 and July 2 – hoping to return the two astronauts to Earth by early July at the latest.

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

“We are letting the data drive our decision-making regarding controlling the small leaks in the helium system and thruster performance we observed during the rendezvous and docking.

“Additionally, given the duration of the mission, it is appropriate that we complete an agency-level assessment, similar to what was done prior to the return of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 after two months in orbit, to determine the document formal acceptance from the agency. is going as planned.”

The extended stay is intended to allow more time to assess technical issues, including thruster failures and leaking valves, Boeing said in a statement

The extended stay is intended to allow more time to assess technical issues, including thruster failures and leaking valves, Boeing said in a statement

The extended stay is intended to allow more time to assess technical issues, including thruster failures and leaking valves, Boeing said in a statement

Starliner experienced five failures of its 28 maneuvering thrusters, five leaks of helium gas intended to pressurize those thrusters and a slow-moving propellant valve that signaled unresolved past problems since launch

Starliner experienced five failures of its 28 maneuvering thrusters, five leaks of helium gas intended to pressurize those thrusters and a slow-moving propellant valve that signaled unresolved past problems since launch

Starliner experienced five failures of its 28 maneuvering thrusters, five leaks of helium gas intended to pressurize those thrusters and a slow-moving propellant valve that signaled unresolved past problems since launch

Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida last week on June 5 at 10:52 a.m. ET with the same leak that forced a scrub operation in May.

However, the capsule launched with a known leak that was reportedly no bigger than a shirt button and quite thin.

Stich said last month that he was confident that 27 of those 28 thrusters were working properly, free of leaks or other problems.

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However, Starliner experienced five failures of its 28 maneuvering thrusters, five leaks of helium gas intended to pressurize those thrusters and a slow-moving propellant valve that indicated unresolved problems since launch.

When Starliner arrived near the space station for docking on June 6, the five thruster failures prevented a close approach of the spacecraft until Boeing found a solution.

It rewrote the software and adjusted some procedures to revive four of them and continue docking.

Starliner’s undocking and return to Earth represent the spacecraft’s most complicated phases of its test mission.

Boeing spent $1.5 billion in cost overruns on top of NASA’s $4.5 billion development contract.

NASA officials have said they want to better understand the cause of the thruster problems, valve problem and helium leaks before Starliner begins its return.

While only one thruster failure remains on Starliner’s current flight, Boeing experienced four thruster failures during the capsule’s unmanned return from space in 2022.

The leak that led to a scrub in May raised concerns among a NASA contractor, who urged the space agency to “redouble safety checks and reexamine safety protocols to ensure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens.’

Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida last week on June 5 at 10:52 a.m. ET with the same leak that forced a scrub in May

Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida last week on June 5 at 10:52 a.m. ET with the same leak that forced a scrub in May

Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida last week on June 5 at 10:52 a.m. ET with the same leak that forced a scrub in May

Erin Faville, president of ValveTech, expressed concerns about this month’s launch, telling DailyMail.com: ‘I warned. I will choose to make it happen.”

Although neither NASA nor Boeing seemed concerned about the initial leak, Mike Gruntman, a professor of aerospace at the University of Southern California, suggested the problems stemmed from production issues.

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‘Multiple similar problems – helium leaks – with apparently similar components, as reported in the press, indicate a systemic problem with design or workmanship or testing or systems engineering or some combination thereof,’ he told DailyMail.com.

Gruntman also said that “it is more likely that SpaceX will be able to provide an additional launch to retrieve the astronauts in the near future.”

Starliner’s problems follow a slew of problems plaguing Boeing’s commercial aircraft.

A Boeing plane experienced a rare Dutch roll at 32,000 feet mid-flight last month, leading to the aircraft being removed from service.

The Southwest Airlines flight, Southwest Flight 746, was flying 175 passengers from Phoenix to Oakland on May 25 when it experienced the terrifying Dutch roll.

A Dutch roll is the name given to the combination of a yawing motion in which the tail slides and the aircraft rocks from wingtip to wingtip. It is said to mimic the movement of a Dutch skater.

The same month, Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321 experienced fatal ‘turbulence’ associated with proximity to tropical thunderstorms.

The Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 plane left London’s Heathrow Airport at 10:17 pm local time with 211 passengers and 18 crew on board.

However, the turbulence caused several injuries and one death. It is unclear if the Boeing plane experienced a problem or if it was a natural occurrence.

And last week, an Air Canada Boeing plane burst into flames seconds after takeoff.

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