Why Is Indian-Origin Astronaut Sunita Williams Stuck In Space?

Earlier set to return on June 26, it's not known when the astronauts will now attempt their journey back to the earth.

Why Is Indian-Origin Astronaut Sunita Williams Stuck In Space?

The Boeing Starliner is on its maiden trip.

Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams is stuck on the International Space Station (ISS) after glitches were found in the Boeing spaceship they travelled in. Earlier set to return on June 26, it's not known now when the astronauts will attempt their journey back to the earth.

The Boeing Starliner, which is on its maiden trip, has been facing a series of glitches that had delayed its launch twice. The constant delays have raised doubts, but what aggravates their troubles are allegations that the issues with the spaceship were known beforehand.

The ISS is a "mini city in space" about the size of a football field that astronauts from multiple space agencies use for research.

Ms Williams and her crewmate Butch Wilmore reached there on June 5 and were set to start their return journey on June 26. NASA, the space agency of US, confirmed on June 22 it had extended Ms Williams and Mr Wilmore's stay on the space station.

The Starliner had five helium leaks and five of its 28 thrusters were having issues, NDTV had reported two days ago. Experts say at least 14 thrusters are needed for a safe return.

Steve Stich, manager of NASA's commercial crew program, said the spaceship was performing well while docked to the space station and they were using the extra time to clear a path for some critical station activities while preparing for the two astronauts' departure.

Ms Williams, who is on her third space trip, had earlier described it a "fantastic spacecraft".

But allegations of neglect continue against Boeing.

Whistleblowers have alleged that Boeing and NASA managers involved in the mission knew of the technical faults with the Starliner, but went ahead as they considered was issues were too minor to further delay its launch.

At least 20 whistleblowers have now accused NASA of being casual about the issues and ignoring their concerns since the beginning, according to multiple reports.

Whistleblowers had raised safety allegations against Boeing in the past too.

Santiago Paredes, a former quality inspector at Spirit, told BBC earlier this month that plane bodies made by them regularly left their factory with serious defects. When he flagged his concerns, he was mocked for slowing down their production, he claimed.

Spirit AeroSystems, the Kansas-based company, "strong disagreed" with the allegation.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun too had defended his firm, telling a recent Congressional hearing, "we are proud of our safety record."

Other Concerns For Starliner

What adds to the concerns is that the astronauts have only 27 days of fuel left for the return voyage, according to a Business Today report. But NASA says they are not pressed for time to leave the station since they have enough supplies in the orbit.

Another headache for the residents of ISS is a "superbug" - a multi-drug resistant bacteria named 'Enterobacter bugandensis', which has evolved to be more potent in the closed environment of the ISS. The bacteria affects the respiratory system.

Boeing had also faced issues while manufacturing the Starliner, ending up spending about $5.7 million against its $4.2 billion contract.

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