Skip to main content

Boeing Starliner spacecraft could wait months before return, but officials say astronauts aren't stranded

·2 mins

More than three weeks into a mission that was initially projected to last only days, the two astronauts piloting a crewed test flight of a spacecraft do not know when they will return home.

Officials have repeatedly indicated that the spacecraft will be safe to bring the astronauts home. Steve Stich, a program manager, said the space agency is considering extending the maximum length of the mission. And there is no firm return date on the horizon.

Part of the desired extension is driven by ground tests that the spacecraft’s developers plan to carry out, seeking to better understand issues encountered during the journey.

Engineers are still not yet certain about the root cause behind the spacecraft’s problems. Carrying out ground tests while the vehicle is still in space is aimed at gathering more information to improve its performance.

Meanwhile, the astronauts have integrated with the rest of the crew currently aboard the International Space Station and are carrying out routine tasks.

The spacecraft’s troubles began with its launch on June 5. Several more issues were identified while the craft was en route, including thruster problems. The spacecraft will be jettisoned on its return journey.

Delays, cost overruns, and unmet deadlines are common in the spaceflight industry. But the spacecraft’s developers have faced challenges, especially when compared to its competitor’s spacecraft.

The journey to this crewed test mission began in 2014. The vehicle has faced years of delays, roadblocks, and added expenses. The first test mission took place without a crew. A second uncrewed flight test uncovered additional issues.

It’s not uncommon for astronauts to unexpectedly extend their stay in space for various reasons.

Astronauts also routinely extend their stays on the station for a variety of factors.