Astronauts trust Boeing spacecraft despite mechanical failures

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Two astronauts who were supposed to return to Earth weeks ago said Wednesday they are confident that a Boeing spacecraft can bring them back safely, despite the problems.

NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams has been released on Boeing’s new Starliner capsule early last month, the first people to ride on it. A helium leak and a thruster failure nearly derailed the arrive at the International Space Station and kept them there much longer than intended.

In their first press conference from orbit, they said they expected to return after thruster testing was completed on Earth. They said they weren’t complaining about the extra time in orbit and were enjoying helping the station crew.

“I really have a good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft is going to get us home, no problem,” Williams told reporters.

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

This week, NASA and Boeing are attempting to replicate the Starliner’s propulsion problems on a brand-new unit at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, one of the main landing sites in the western desert of the United States. The problem lies in the propulsion system, which is used to steer the spacecraft.

Five of the thrusters failed as the spacecraft approached the space station on June 6, a day after liftoff. Four have since been re-ignited. Wilmore said there will be enough thrusters in place to get him and Williams out of orbit. There are also larger engines available to replace them if necessary.

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

Boeing and NASA consider ground tests necessary to determine what might have gone wrong because that part of the capsule — the service module — was removed before landing. The leaks were also in that disposable part.

NASA has ordered the launch of the Starliner spacecraft and SpaceX The Dragon shuttles were designed a decade ago to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, costing each company billions of dollars. SpaceX’s first taxi flight carrying astronauts is scheduled for 2020. Boeing’s first crewed flight has been repeatedly delayed because of software and other issues.

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