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Boeing Starliner arrives safely at the ISS, but it sprung more leaks along the way

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean.
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking as it orbited 257 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. NASA Television

Boeing’s Starliner has completed its first crewed journey to the International Space Station (ISS), carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams following its dramatic launch yesterday. The Starliner docked with this ISS at 1:34 p.m. ET, after a journey of just over 24 hours from its launch from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The journey did not go entirely smoothly, however, as there were several helium leaks from the Starliner. One of these was a leak previously identified on the ground, which NASA and Boeing investigated before launch and determined was not serious enough to pose a threat to the mission. However, two new leaks were identified during the flight in addition to this original leak.

“Prior to crew sleep, mission teams identified three helium leaks in the spacecraft,” NASA wrote in an update. “One of these was previously discussed before flight along with a management plan, and the other two occurred when the spacecraft arrived in orbit. To monitor and manage these leaks, the three helium manifolds were closed in flight during the crew’s sleep period and were all reopened ahead of rendezvous and docking operations.”

With the Starliner now docked, the teams will continue to monitor the leaks to watch their severity.

There was also an issue with the first attempt to dock the Starliner to the space station, as there was a problem with Starliner’s reaction control thrusters. Five of the thrusters, which are necessary to precisely line up the spacecraft with the station’s docking port, went out during the flight. The team then performed a hotfire test and was able to reignite four of these five thrusters, which were enough to get the spacecraft to dock safely.

The hatch of the ISS will open shortly, allowing Wilmore and Williams to enter the station and greet the crew there. More information is expected to come from NASA soon about the issues with the Starliner and the severity of the leaks detected, though during the livecast NASA engineers gave assurances that the spacecraft was safe and stable, though they would need to observe it overnight to learn more.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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