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Boeing's astronaut capsule arrives at the International Space Station

Boeing's astronaut capsule arrives at the International Space Station
Boeing's astronaut capsule arrives at the International Space Station

 


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) New Boeings capsule arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday, delayed by last-minute problems with the thruster that almost broke the docking for it first test flight with astronauts.

The 260-mile-high (420-kilometer-high) link over the Indian Ocean culminated more than a day of ongoing drama for Boeing's astronaut flight debut carrying NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

Boeing plans to keep the Starliner on the space station for at least eight days before guiding it to a landing in the western US.

It's good to connect with the big city in the sky, Wilmore said once the hooks between the two spacecraft were tightened.

Williams entered the space station first, dancing his way to music. Wilmore followed, snapping his fingers. They embraced the seven inhabitants of the space station.

It was such a great reception, a little dance party, Williams said. This is the way to go about things.

The Starliner capsule already had a small helium leak when it fell into orbit with two NASA astronauts on Wednesday. Boeing and NASA managers were confident that they could manage the propulsion system despite the problem and that more leaks were unlikely. But just hours into the flight, two more leaks appeared and another was discovered after docking.

Later, five of the 28 propellant capsules crashed. The astronauts managed to restart four of them, providing enough safety space to continue. By then, the Starliner had taken the first opportunity to dock and circled the world for an extra hour near the station before going inside.

The thruster problems were unrelated to the helium leaks, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich said after the docking.

“Going forward in flight, we have several tools in our toolkit to manage this,” Stich said.

Earlier in the day, before the thrusters malfunctioned, officials stressed that the helium leaks did not pose any safety problems for the astronauts or the mission.

Helium is used to pressurize the Starliners' thruster fuel lines, which are essential for maneuverability. Before it took off, engineers created a plan to fix any additional leaks in the system. A faulty rubber seal, no bigger than a shirt button, is believed to be responsible for the original leak.

Boeing program manager Mark Nappi said there should be plenty of helium in reserve for the trip home.

After the spacecraft were retired, NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceXs taxi service launched in 2020. Boeing was supposed to launch at the same time, but was held back for years by safety concerns and other issues.

Stich said none of the problems so far would require a repeat astronaut test flight before certifying the capsule for regular use.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science Media and Education Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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