Boeing’s Starliner Mission Aborted: Indian-Origin Sunita Williams’ ISS Trip Halted Due to Faulty Oxygen Relief Valve

Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore, Indian-American and Boeing’s mission commander, respectively, had a mock launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft at the International Space Station. The launch, scheduled for 8:04 a.m. from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, was postponed due to issues with the rocket’s oxygen relief valve.

After the mission was aborted, the astronauts returned to Crew Quarters. No information is available regarding the next launch attempt. If successful, this mission will mark the first time American astronauts are sent to space on Boeing’s spacecraft. Currently, only SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is operational for NASA.

Boeing’s Atlas V rocket will be launched. 15 minutes later, the Starliner astronauts will be released from the rocket. The spacecraft’s engines will fire, and it will embark on a nearly 24-hour journey to the space station.

The Starliner will dock at the forward port of the Harmony module. During its stay, the astronauts will enter the Starliner, hatch it, and demonstrate how the spacecraft can function as a “safe haven” in case of emergencies like rapid decompression.

Before returning to Earth, Wilmore and Williams will spend approximately a week and a half with Expedition 71 crew aboard the station and conduct operations. After undocking, the Starliner’s manual piloting evaluation will be carried out. The crew will spend about six hours from undocking to landing.

During re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the Starliner will begin slowing down from 28,000 km/h to a gradual pace of 3.5 g-force, experiencing about 3.5 grams of force. Following re-entry, the forward heat shield of the Starliner will be removed to ensure a safe landing.

Two drogue chutes and three main parachutes of the Starliner will deploy further slowing it down. The base heat shield will jettison to expose the dual airbag system. Deployment will be based on the capsule’s orientation. This landing will be similar to a cushion’s function.

During landing, the Starliner’s speed will be approximately 6 kilometers per hour. Potential landing sites include Wilcox, Arizona, and the Utah desert. Edwards Air Force Base in California will serve as an emergency landing site.

After touchdown, the crew will deploy parachute, power down the spacecraft, and contact mission control and recovery teams via satellite phones. The recovery team will establish a tent around the Starliner and pump cold air into it.

The hatch of the Starliner will be opened, and within an hour of landing, the astronauts will board medical vehicles for health checks. Later, they will be transported via helicopter to NASA’s aircraft in Houston’s Ellington Field.

Following a successful landing and recovery, NASA will certify the operational crew system for missions to the space station. Mission 2025 is expected to commence after certification.

Now, answers to 5 important questions…

Question 1: How many people can the Starliner carry?

Answer: The Starliner has been designed to accommodate up to 7 crew members, but NASA’s missions will carry a crew of 4.

Question 2: Is the Starliner reusable?

Answer: Yes, the Crew Module is designed to fly up to 10 missions, but the Service Module is not reusable.

Question 3: Will private astronauts also fly on the Starliner?

Answer: Yes, Boeing will sell the fifth seat on NASA missions. Private citizens like tourists can fly.

Question 4: Why did NASA need private players?

Answer: NASA has benefited from the entry of private companies in the space sector, helping develop cutting-edge technology and reducing mission costs. After the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the U.S. became dependent on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS. However, the entry of private players like SpaceX has reduced this dependence.

Question 5: Why is Boeing’s mission for NASA crucial?

Answer: Boeing has faced controversies regarding its 737 Max planes. After a crash in October 2018 and another in 2019, questions have been raised about Boeing’s safety standards. Amidst these events, Boeing has been preparing for a major mission for NASA, aiming to regain trust.

Arvind Amble

My name is Arvind Amble. As a tech enthusiast and writer, I'm fascinated by the ever-evolving world of technology, AI, IOS, Android, Software & Apps, and Digital Marketing. With a keen eye for emerging trends and a passion for innovation, I bring a fresh perspective to my writing, blending technical expertise with a creative flair.