Two Astronauts Are Now Stuck In Space!
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Two Astronauts Are Now Stuck In Space!

Boeing’s public relations crisis has literally reached beyond Earth. The company’s Starliner spacecraft, carrying two astronauts, is currently stuck in space. This mission, which was supposed to last just eight days, has now stretched to nearly a month due to technical issues. Astronauts Sunita “Suni” Williams and Barry “Butch” Wilmore are waiting aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as engineers work on the problems with the spacecraft. How long will it take to return home? What will happen if they have to stay longer in space? Let’s find out!

The Starliner Mission: From Launch to Stuck

The Starliner launched on June 5 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This was after two failed attempts on May 6 and June 1. The project has faced significant delays and is $1.5 billion over budget.

Despite all the setbacks, the mission proceeded. At first, NASA gave the idea that the Starliner could only spend around 45 days in space. This was according to the spacecraft’s battery and how long it’s certified by NASA to stay in orbit. But now, NASA is giving the impression that the mission is able to last longer since the battery is managing ‘ok.’

However, it encountered issues with reaction control thrusters and helium leaks. While most of these problems have stabilized, one out of 27 thrusters is still offline. According to Boeing, this does not pose a risk for the return journey. But this sparks a lot of debate among many.

Image source: Unilad

NASA Don’t Want Us to Think Astronauts Are Stranded

NASA and Boeing have stressed that the astronauts are not stranded.

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process.”

NASA’s Steve Stich emphasized.

Boeing also reassured that they are using data to manage the small helium leaks and thruster performance issues. Despite the delays, they are confident the spacecraft is safe for the return trip. Nasa and Boeing announced that there are plenty of supplies aboard. The Boeing also has adequate helium in its tanks to support 70 hours of free flight activity following undocking.

“We have adjusted the return of the Starliner crew flight test until after two planned spacewalks on Monday 24 June and Tuesday 2 July. They currently do not have a date for the return and will evaluate opportunities after the spacewalks. The crew is not pressed for time to leave the station since there are plenty of supplies in orbit, and the station’s schedule is relatively open through mid-August.”

Boeing spokesperson
Image source: The Mirror

Waiting on the International Space Station (ISS)

While waiting, the astronauts continue their usual tasks on the ISS. They conduct various research activities and perform maintenance tasks. NASA has assured that there are plenty of supplies to last until mid-August, so the astronauts are not in immediate danger. Important spacewalks are scheduled for June 24 and July 2, which will impact the timing of their return.

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process. 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.”

Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager.
Image source: Marca.com

What Happens to the Body if You Get Stuck in Space for Over a Month?

Being in space for an extended period affects the human body in various ways. Microgravity causes fluids to shift upwards, which can lead to dehydration or fluid overload. This can increase the risk of kidney stones and chronic kidney disease.

Radiation exposure is another concern, raising the risk of cancer and acute radiation sickness. Additionally, the isolation and confinement of space can negatively impact mental health. However, astronauts use various coping mechanisms to manage these challenges.

“I want to make it very clear that Butch and Suni are not stranded in space. Our plan is to continue to return them on Starliner and return them home.”

Steve Stich, NASA program manager overseeing the mission.

NASA Giving Updates At Odd Hours and No Straightforward Answer

Adding to the anxiety, NASA and Boeing have been releasing significant updates at odd hours, such as a late-night blog post on June 21. This timing often suggests bad news, as it avoids immediate media scrutiny. Additionally, a major problem is that NASA and Boeing can’t seem to provide a clear answer to the critical question: Is the Starliner safe to bring the crew home right now?

When pressed on this question on Friday, NASA’s Steve Stich gave a lengthy, jargon-filled response instead of a straightforward “yes” or “no.” This evasiveness has only fueled more confusion and concern. It seems that NASA is reluctant to commit to any definitive statements.

Image source: AL Jazeera / The New York Times

Conclusion

The timeline for the astronauts’ return remains uncertain. NASA and Boeing continue to analyze the technical issues and perform tests to ensure a safe return. This mission is critical for future space exploration, offering valuable lessons and technological advancements. Despite the current crisis, Boeing is working to rebuild its reputation and ensure the success of future missions.

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