Astronauts stranded due to stricken Boeing Starliner spacecraft

Two astronauts who piloted Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station earlier this month remain aboard the floating research hub with no firm return date to Earth, as NASA and Boeing seek to analyze mechanical issues and clear a schedule for the craft’s return voyage.

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

The Starliner arrived at the ISS on June 6, and the two crew members, Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore were originally scheduled to remain at the space station for a week.

The astronauts won’t return at least through July 2, after a planned ISS spacewalk.

It’s a considerable adjustment from the original Starliner mission plan, which was intended as a showcase launch as Boeing seeks to compete with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which has been NASA’s only vehicle ferrying astronauts to the ISS since 2020.

As the Starliner neared the ISS, however, mechanical problems including four helium leaks and five malfunctioning thrusters were discovered.

Mission managers knew the ship had a helium leak prior to the launch, but assumed it was unlikely to affect the mission, according to NBC News. Four more helium leaks were discovered once the Starliner was in space.

Boeing has billed the Starliner as its “21st Century Space Capsule,” designed to be reusable up to 10 times.

The issues with the Starliner are just the latest in a season of turbulence for the aerospace giant.

The FAA has grounded all 171 of its MAX 9 jets and instigated an investigation after a door plug blew off in mid-air during an Alaska Airlines flight.

At the same time, the company has faced a string of whistleblower allegations it ignored quality issues, and multiple internal critics of the company have died after raising concerns.