Astronauts confident Boeing space capsule can return them safely to Earth despite failures

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Two astronauts who were supposed to be back on Earth weeks ago said Wednesday they are confident Boeing’s space capsule can bring them back safely despite malfunctions.

NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams launched aboard Boeing’s new Starliner capsule early last month, the first humans to ride in it. Helium leaks and booster failures nearly killed their arrival in the International Space Station and kept them there much longer than planned.

In their first press conference from space, they said they expect to return as soon as thruster testing is complete here on Earth. They said they are not complaining about the extra time in space and that they enjoy helping the space station crew.

“I have a very good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home without any problems,” Williams told reporters.

The test flight was scheduled to last eight days and end on June 14.

This week, NASA and Boeing are attempting to duplicate the Starliner’s thruster problems on a brand-new unit at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, one of the most important landing sites in the U.S. Western desert. The problem is in the propulsion system, which is used to maneuver the spacecraft,

Five thrusters failed as the capsule approached the space station on June 6, a day after launch. Four have since been reactivated. Wilmore said there should be enough working thrusters to get him and Williams out of orbit. There are also larger engines that can step in if needed.

“That mantra that you’ve heard, failure is not an option, that’s why we’re here right now,” Wilmore said. “We trust that the testing that we’re doing is the testing that we need to do to get the right answers, to give us the data that we need to come back.”

Boeing and NASA consider the ground tests essential to determining what may have gone wrong, since that part of the capsule — the service module — is discarded before landing. The leaks are also in that discarded section.

NASA ordered the Starliner and SpaceX Dragon capsules a decade ago for astronaut flights to and from the space station, paying each company billions of dollars. SpaceX’s first astronaut taxi flight was in 2020. Boeing’s first crew flight was repeatedly delayed by software and other problems.


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

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