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NASA knew Boeing Starliner had issues before launch, leaving astronauts stuck at ISS: reports

NASA and Boeing officials knew about the leak before the Starliner rocket’s launch but didn’t think it posed a danger, and new reports say the problem still keeps two astronauts trapped on the International Space Station.

Officials discovered a helium leak on the troubled Starliner before the June 5 launch, but NASA and Boeing executives said the problem was small enough to threaten the spacecraft’s safety and the rocket would fly without incident. CBS NewsThe rocket’s launch date had already been postponed due to another leak.

Later, once in orbit, four more helium leaks were reported and one thruster was officially deemed unusable.

Officials were aware of the leak but believed the amount was too small to pose a threat, and yet the Starliner spacecraft was allowed to launch. Reuters

The return of astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams has been delayed until at least July 2.

Boeing has been on the receiving end of criticism over the current state of Starliner.

The company has already come under fire for serious aircraft failures over the past year, with at least 20 whistleblowers raising concerns about safety and quality issues at the aerospace giant.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams were scheduled to return to Earth on June 13. Getty Images

Wilmore and Williams were scheduled to return on June 13 after a week on the International Space Station, but the return date remains uncertain as engineers continue to analyze and test the Starliner’s helium leak and thruster failure, according to NASA.

“We are taking our time and following standard Mission Management Team processes,” Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said in a statement.

“We are making data-driven decisions regarding the small leak in the helium system that was observed during rendezvous and docking, and managing thruster performance,” he added.

Stich maintained that despite these issues, NASA still has confidence in Starliner, and that the spacecraft is “performing well in orbit while docked to the space station.”

The Starliner remains docked to the International Space Station after experiencing four further helium leaks. AP
Despite the issues, officials say the spacecraft is orbiting the ISS smoothly. AP

NASA officials have denied that Wilmore and Williams are trapped on the ISS, insisting they have permission to leave the station and return home at any time if something major goes wrong.

But issues and tests conducted by NASA and Boeing have cast doubt on whether the Starliner will be able to survive the six-hour return journey.

Boeing has incurred roughly $1.5 billion in cost overruns beyond its original $4.5 billion contract with NASA, which wants Starliner to become a second vehicle to the ISS alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

Officials said despite the leak, Williams and Wilmore would still be able to return home if something serious were to go wrong. NASA/AFP via Getty Images

Starliner’s repeated leak problems threaten its future and could further damage Boeing’s already troubled reputation in the aerospace industry.

The airline has been plagued by safety concerns since earlier this year when a door panel on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 plane was blown off and four key bolts were thought to be missing.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jennifer Homendy subsequently pointed to ongoing problems on Boeing’s production lines, and several whistleblowers have publicly said they felt pressured to remain silent when they discovered defects on the line.

Boeing did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.