Space: “What a great place!”  Two astronauts from Boeing's Starliner spacecraft have arrived at the International Space Station

Space: “What a great place!” Two astronauts from Boeing's Starliner spacecraft have arrived at the International Space Station

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Two astronauts aboard Boeing's Starliner spacecraft entered the International Space Station on Thursday, June 6. This first mission is crucial for Starliner. However, helium leaks have been detected.

“What a wonderful place! It's great to be back here!” All smiles, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore was happy to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS). This is his third stay on the International Space Station, just like his colleague Sonny Williams. The first two astronauts transported by Boeing's Starliner spacecraft arrived safely on Thursday, June 6, 400 kilometers above our heads. They had taken off the day before from Florida.

This first crewed Starliner mission represents a major challenge for Boeing and NASA. It aims to prove that the vehicle is safe to begin regular operations. Ten years ago, the US Space Agency ordered two new vehicles from the American companies Boeing and SpaceX to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station. If SpaceX has already played this role as a space taxi for four years, Boeing's program is years behind schedule.

“When Starliner is certified, the United States will have two systems to transport humans to the International Space Station, and no other country has that,” recalls NASA associate administrator Jim Frey. The empty spacecraft has already arrived at the International Space Station once in 2022, but this is the first time it has carried astronauts.

The spacecraft took off from Florida on Thursday, heading to the International Space Station.
France Press agency

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Thrust problems and helium leaks

This docking should not hide problems with the ship's thrusters, used to make small course adjustments, which delayed the final approach. 5 of the 28 small engines failed at some point. But four of them were eventually restarted, providing the necessary numbers for the operation.

Another problem arose during the flight: During the night from Wednesday to Thursday, NASA announced that two new helium leaks, in addition to a previously known leak, had been discovered on the spacecraft. Steve Stich, a senior NASA official, announced that an additional leak had been identified on Thursday. He explained that these four leaks and the problem with the payment devices “are not related at all.” One leak was identified before take-off, but it was later decided not to repair it. Helium is not a flammable gas, but it is used in a ship's propulsion system. No helium is currently being released into space, as the system has been shut down since docking.

Back to Earth in a week

Butch Wilmore, 61, and Sonny Williams, 58, were received by seven others already on board the International Space Station, NASA astronauts, and Russian astronauts. “It's just an amazing ship,” exclaimed Butch Wilmore.

The two Boeing passengers will have to spend just over a week on the International Space Station before returning to Earth, still aboard the Starliner.

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