Boeing Starliner: Crew arrives safely to International Space Station

Boeing Starliner crew astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams successfully made it to the International Space Station despite some troubleshooting with the Boeing test flight. 

Three helium leaks were detected as the crew made its way to the International Space Station (ISS), part of a historic crewed test flight for Boeing Space. Boeing said none of the leaks was a safety issue for the crew, vehicle, or the mission.

Boeing's Starliner lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 10:52 a.m. Tuesday, part of its Crewed Flight Test. The highly-anticipated launch has experienced several delays over the years. Two launch attempts happened before Tuesday but were scrubbed due to various issues.

Just after 1 p.m. on Thursday, the Starliner spacecraft made its "careful approach" to the ISS. "After conducting a series of reaction control system thruster tests, four thrusters were recovered from five that had gone out," according to NASA.

Boeing Space aerospace engineer Jim May provided an update on Thursday morning on the helium leaks. He said Starliner has enough reserve propellant and that there is no current safety issue to the flight crew, vehicle, or the overall mission.

"Currently, the helium leak is not a safety issue for the crew, the vehicle, or the mission," he said, according to a screen recording shared by Boeing Space.

Late Wednesday, NASA's Johnson Space Center confirmed that three helium leaks had been detected aboard the aircraft, which is on its way to the International Space Station.

Both astronauts aboard – Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams – were asleep as ground crews managed the spacecraft's flight.

NASA said one of the leaks was known prior to launch. Boeing Space's teams scrubbed a previous launch due to a helium leak but determined that the leak itself was within the safety parameters to still go through with the mission.

Two of the other leaks appeared as the spacecraft arrived in orbit, NASA said.

"Two of the affected helium valves have been closed, and the spacecraft remains stable," NASA said in a post on X.

What's next for Starliner?

Wilmore and Williams will spend about eight days on the station before returning to Earth in Starliner. NASA managers said the return timeline is flexible, and the date could change by a few days. 

Since liftoff, views inside the spacecraft have not been available because of Starliner's software capabilities. Now that the spacecraft is on the space station, Boeing managers said video inside the capsule will be downlinked to Earth. 

"Once we do get the station, we'll get feed. And, of course, when we get back down, we'll be able to get all the video. We are looking at being able to provide live feed in flight, but that won't be for a couple of flights," Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program manager Mark Nappi said after the launch. 

The final part of the CFT will be a successful landing in the New Mexico desert, returning Williams and Wilmore safely home. 

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