Boeing Starliner Stuck on Space Station as More Leaks Discovered

After years of delays and technical problems, Boeing's Starliner finally made it to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on board last week.

But when exactly it'll be able to undock and deliver its crew of two back to the surface remains to be seen.

Teams have discovered an astonishing five different helium leaks so far, each representing yet another thorn in the spacecraft's already cursed development. The gas is "used in spacecraft thruster systems to allow the thrusters to fire" while navigating through space, according to Boeing.

NASA is giving Boeing another four days, extending Wilmore and Williams' mission onboard the ISS from June 14 to no earlier than June 18, though it's unclear whether the leaks are to blame for the delay. Boeing is still "assessing what impacts, if any, five small leaks in the service module helium manifolds would have on the remainder of the mission," according to an update.

Boeing has been through hell and back in its attempts to get its first crewed test flight off the ground, including countless delays, scrubs, technical screwups, and an unsuccessful uncrewed test flight back in 2019.

Where that leaves Starliner's future viability for providing NASA with a reliable way to get astronauts to the space station remains to be seen. While it has managed to dock with the ISS, its mission isn't over until Wilmore and Williams are safely back on the ground.

Hole Story

Last month, officials discovered the first helium leak, which was later underplayed by officials and determined not to be severe enough to delay its journey to the ISS.

On its way up, the capsule sprang even more helium leaks. Even docking procedures didn't initially go as planned, with Boeing calling off its first attempt due to reaction-control thrusters malfunctioning.

There's a lot we still don't know about Starliner's current status. Fortunately, engineers have determined that the capsule will have plenty of helium for its return mission, roughly ten times as much as it needs to maneuver through the near vacuum of space.

"While Starliner is docked, all the manifolds are closed per normal mission operations preventing helium loss from the tanks," Boeing explained in its update.

Meanwhile, NASA is making the most out of the situation.

"The additional time in orbit will allow the crew to perform a spacewalk on Thursday, June 13, while engineers complete Starliner systems checkouts," ISS officials tweeted, referring to two different space station crew members.

More on Starliner: Boeing's Starliner Has Trouble Docking With Space Station