Sunita Williams, Safe On Space Station, To Address Earth On July 10

Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams is safe and continues helping with research and maintenance of the International Space Station, said American space agency NASA after her return to Earth was delayed, which sparked fears about the safety of the crew that flew on board the Boeing Starliner spacecraft to the space station on June 5. She will discuss the crew’s mission in a live address from the space station on July 10 at 8.30 pm.

Ms Williams and her crewmate Butch Wilmore have already spent over a month in the space station on a trip that was originally supposed to be 10 days long due to a series of technical glitches in the Boeing Starliner.

Currently, the ISS is hosting nine crew members who are continuing their planned activities, said NASA. Ms Williams, in the last four weeks on the ISS, has helped disassemble and empty racks for future missions and also assessed air flow in the filters. Her crewmate, Mr Wilmore, joined another NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson on July 2 to load trash and discarded gear inside the Cygnus spacecraft, said NASA. Cygnus, built by Northrop Grumman, is scheduled to be released from the ISS’s Unity module later this month for disposal over the South Pacific Ocean, ending its five-and-a-half-month stay at the orbiting lab. On the same day, the crew also checked up on the quiescent Boeing Starliner awaiting its return to Earth.

The crew’s work on the ISS, which is like a mini city the size of a football field in space, is of immense significance. The space station, which weighs 419 tonnes and costs over $150 Billion, has been hosting astronauts since 2000. The crew there experiences 16 sunrises daily in its orbit, making the upkeep of the space station a crucial and challenging task. 

Riding atop the Boeing Starliner on its first crewed mission, Ms Williams and Mr Wilmore reached the ISS on June 6. She was supposed to return on June 14, however, the return trip was delayed till June 26 due to some technical glitches on the spacecraft. Failing to return on June 26 as well, no new date has been disclosed by NASA.

The space agency and Boeing, while announcing the delay in a statement, said, “NASA and Boeing leadership are adjusting the return to Earth of the Starliner Crew Flight Test spacecraft with agency astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams from the International Space Station. The move off Wednesday, June 26, deconflicts Starliner’s undocking and landing from a series of planned International Space Station spacewalks while allowing mission teams time to review propulsion system data.”
The delay has been attributed to five helium leaks on the Starliner and technical issues in five of its 28 thrusters. Experts say a minimum of 14 thrusters are required for a safe trip back.

While Ms Williams’ trip to the ISS has faced an indefinite extension, NASA says 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.

However, Boeing is facing heat for the unexpected obstruction technical glitches in its spacecraft’s maiden {test} mission. According to some experts, the same problems that beset the Boeing Company in its aviation business may be plaguing its space business as well. Recently, Boeing CEO David Calhoun was grilled by US Senators regarding the aviation giant’s safety culture and transparency during his first appearance before the US Congress.

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