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NASA has delayed the undocking of Boeing's Starliner capsule until next week


NASA has delayed the return of Boeing's Starliner capsule from the International Space Station again. The test flight was only supposed to last a week. Equipment problems have now kept the two NASA astronauts in space for two weeks. Here's Brendan Byrne with Central Florida Public Media.

BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: When Boeing's Starliner launched into orbit from Florida's Cape Canaveral, NASA began observing problems, like helium leaks. A day later, when the capsule arrived at the station, its first docking opportunity was waved off.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This comes after some troubleshooting of some reaction control system thrusters - those are also known as RCS thrusters - on the service module portion of the Starliner spacecraft.

BYRNE: Those thrusters and the five helium leaks are partly why Starliner is extending its stay at the ISS. Crews on the ground and the station have been investigating and delayed the capsule's return home, says NASA's Steve Stich.


STEVE STICH: We want to give our teams a little bit more time to look at the data, do some analysis and make sure we're really ready to come home.

BYRNE: Part of that data came from the space station itself. While docked, Starliner fired its thrusters for just a second. Flight controllers measured how much the massive orbiting outpost moved and determined most of the thrusters that failed at docking are working again.

Doing testing now is vital. That's because these issues are isolated to Starliner's service module, the part of the spacecraft that will separate from the capsule during the crew's return and burn up in the atmosphere. Understanding what's going on is critical to the future of Starliner. NASA needs to review the data from this flight before certifying it for operational missions. For Boeing's Mark Nappi, there's still a lot to understand.


MARK NAPPI: We've learned that our helium system is not performing as designed. Albeit manageable, it's still not working like we designed it. So we got to go figure that out.

BYRNE: NASA and Boeing say that Starliner is still safe to bring the crew home. But space industry analyst Laura Forczyk says Boeing's airplane production issues might give clues to what's happening with its space program.

LAURA FORCZYK: Boeing has really struggled with this Starliner capsule and just understanding how to do this safely, which, unfortunately, might be a continuation of Boeing's larger problems with quality control.

BYRNE: Teams at Boeing and NASA are targeting the Starliner's return a week from today with a landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. For NPR News, I'm Brendan Byrne in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUTIMAN'S "6AM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Brendan Byrne
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