Astronauts Reach Space Station

Thruster problems delay docking
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 6, 2024 5:15 PM CDT
After More Drama, Astronauts Arrive for 'a Little Dance Party'
Boeing Starliner spacecraft prepares to dock with the International Space Station for the first time on Thursday.   (NASA via AP)

Boeing's new capsule arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday, delayed by last-minute thruster trouble that almost derailed the docking for this first test flight with astronauts. The 260-mile-high linkup over the Indian Ocean culminated more than a day of continuing drama for Boeing's astronaut flight debut carrying NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams. Boeing plans to keep Starliner at the space station for at least eight days before guiding it to a landing in the western US, the AP reports.

"Nice to be attached to the big city in the sky," Wilmore said once the hooks between the two spacecraft were tight. Williams entered the space station first, dancing on the way in to music. Wilmore followed, snapping his fingers. They embraced the seven space station residents. "It was such a great welcome, a little dance party," said Williams. "That's the way to get things going." The Starliner capsule already had one small helium leak when it rocketed into orbit with two NASA astronauts Wednesday. Boeing and NASA managers were confident that they could manage the propulsion system despite the problem and that more leaks were unlikely, per the AP. But just hours into the flight, two more leaks cropped up, and a third was discovered after docking.

Later, five of the capsule's 28 thrusters went down. The astronauts managed to restart three of them, enough to proceed. By then, Starliner had passed up the first docking opportunity and circled the world for an extra hour alongside the station before moving in. The thrusters problems were not related to the helium leaks, NASA's commercial crew program manager said after the docking. Earlier in the day, before the thrusters malfunctioned, Boeing spokesman Jim May said the helium leaks posed no safety issues. Helium is used to pressurize the fuel lines of Starliner's thrusters, which are essential for maneuvering. Before liftoff, engineers devised a plan to work around any additional leaks. A faulty rubber seal, no bigger than a shirt button, is believed responsible for the original leak.

(More Starliner stories.)

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