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NASA continues checkout of new Starliner space capsule

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are greeted by the crew of the International Space Station on Thursday, June 6, 2024. (NASA via AP)
NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are greeted by the crew of the International Space Station on Thursday, June 6, 2024. (NASA via AP)

The astronauts aboard the International Space Station continue putting the new Starliner capsule through its paces. The spacecraft will remain docked to the orbiting outpost for the next few days as part of a test flight. The vehicle was carried to space on an Alabama built Atlas Five rocket. NASA’s Chief Flight Director Emily Nelson says part of the mission to make improvements to Starliner for the capsule’s next flight aboard an Alabama built Atlas Five…

“And so there's emergency equipment that we want to have installed and visiting vehicles, and we had a little bit of a challenge with the shelf that we need to install that on on the last mission. So, we're going to make sure that that hardware can get installed properly,” said Nelson.

The docking between was delayed to fix five thrusters on the Starliner capsule that went down Thursday as the two NASA test pilots closed in on the space station. All but one thruster was restarted. Starliner will spend at least eight days at the space station before aiming for a touchdown in the western U.S. Three astronauts are in training to fly the first operational mission of Starliner in the coming months. Nelson said part of the current docking mission between the new crew capsule and the orbiting outpost is testing how to make the best use of the vehicle..

“We're going to have them check out,” she said. “How could four grab some of their ISS roommates, go inside and see. How would four people configure themselves to sleep in this in the the Starliner, because being in microgravity is a way better test of how would you want to opt to organize yourselves for those kinds of things?”

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 they could manage the propulsion system despite the problem and that more leaks were unlikely. But just hours into the flight, two more leaks cropped up and another was discovered after docking. After the space shuttles retired, NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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