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Sunita Williams stranded in space: Whistleblowers accuse Boeing and NASA of hiding critical Starliner leak before launch

Sunita Williams has been stranded at the International Space Station for over 10 days now. Indian origin American astronaut along with her colleague Butch Wilmore were expected to return on June 13 but now their return has been delayed. The new return date has still not been finalised after NASA had confirmed July 2 as re-entry date.

Astronauts Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore were photographed ahead of the inaugural crewed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. (PTI)

NASA and Boeing leader knew of Starliner leak before launch

The unexpected delay is a result of helium leak on the Starliner. Shockingly, new CBS News report unravels how despite deeming the rocket safe for launch both NASA and Boeing managers were aware of the leak. However, theyconsidered it to be too small to jeopardize the mission. This decision has now left two astronauts stranded at the International Space Station (ISS) as new reports reveal the extent of the issue.

The launch had already been postponed once due to a different leak. Once in orbit, four additional helium leaks developed, rendering one thruster unusable.

NASA says all is well, but ongoing delay raises doubts

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” NASA’s Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement to CBS News. “We are letting the data drive our decision-making relative to managing the small helium system leaks and thruster performance we observed during rendezvous and docking.”

Despite officials asserting that Wilmore and Williams are not stranded and can undock and fly home if necessary, the ongoing tests and issues raise doubts about the Starliner’s ability to make the six-hour return trip safely.

NASA and Boeing managers want to give the engineers as much time as possible to review telemetry. This would help in testing and to polish contingency scenarios in case additional problems show up after undocking.

Boeing in the dock over Starliner and other safety negligence

Boeing has faced intense scrutiny over the Starliner’s current predicament, adding to the criticism it has received following high-profile malfunctions of its aircraft over the past year. At least 20 whistleblowers have raised concerns about safety and quality issues at the aerospace giant.

Boeing has invested approximately $1.5 billion in cost overruns beyond the initial $4.5 billion contract with NASA, which aims to make Starliner its second mode of transportation to the ISS alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. However, persistent leaks may jeopardize the future of the Starliner program and further tarnish Boeing’s reputation in the aerospace industry.

Boeing faces criminal charges, US prosectors advice Justice Department

In parallel, US prosecutors have advised senior Justice Department officials to bring criminal charges against Boeing for violating a 2021 deferred-prosecution agreement related to two fatal 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people. According to Reuters, the charges could extend beyond the original fraud conspiracy charge.

In May, the Justice Department concluded that Boeing breached the agreement. While Boeing has denied these findings, the Justice Department has until July 7 to decide on potential penalties, which could include new charges, an extension of the settlement by a year, or stricter terms.

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