Boeing's Starliner Now Has 5 Leaks While Parked Outside the ISS

The Starliner spacecraft, designed and operated by Boeing, continues to experience leaks that pose a major concern for NASA just days after it delivered two astronauts to the International Space Station. Despite these leaks, NASA continues to downplay the situation and is assessing the spacecraft's ability to return the duo back to Earth. The situation has raised questions about the safety and resilience of the spacecraft, and whether it is fit for long-term missions.

The current situation is as follows: NASA released an update on June 13, 2024, stating that the Starliner spacecraft, currently docked at the International Space Station (ISS), has suffered five separate helium leaks since arriving at the ISS. Despite the manifolds being closed according to normal mission operations, the rate of helium loss from the tanks is concerning and is under evaluation by NASA and Boeing. The space agency insists that the spacecraft has enough helium left in its tanks to support 70 hours of free flight activity following undocking, which is scheduled for no earlier than June 18. However, the finer details of this plan have not yet been disclosed by NASA or Boeing. The spacecraft is also being assessed for an RCS oxidizer isolation valve in its service module that is not properly closed.

The broader context is important to consider as well. This mission, known as the Crewed Flight Test, is a part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which contracted Boeing to provide a crew transportation service to and from the ISS for a staggering $4.3 billion. This contract was meant to allow for more commercial missions to the ISS, a crucial move in the current climate of reduced governmental spending for space exploration. The first crewed flight was intended to usher in a new era of regular trips to the ISS, however, the leaks in the Starliner spacecraft may require significant delays and potentially even fixes before NASA allows it to resume normal operations. These issues have not been seen to this extent in NASA's other commercial partner, SpaceX, which has launched eight crews to the ISS without any reported issues.

The situation has led many to wonder if NASA will need to call on its other commercial partner, SpaceX, to come to Boeing's rescue. While NASA continues to downplay the situation and insists the spacecraft is safe, many FR readers have expressed concern and frustration with the situation. Some have compared it to the Challenger disaster, while others have criticized NASA and Boeing's management of the situation. The disproportionate focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within NASA has also been criticized for taking attention away from crucial operational matters. Despite these concerns, NASA and Boeing continue to investigate the leaks and assess the spacecraft's capabilities ahead of its scheduled undocking from the ISS.

This news article has been updated to reflect the latest information shared by NASA on June 13, 2024. Let me know if you would like me to expand on any of the information provided or if you would like me to shift the tone to either a more upbeat or critical perspective.

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