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Stranded in space: Sunita Williams shares her experience LIVE from the International Space Station

Stranded in space: Sunita Williams shares her experience LIVE from the International Space Station
Space travel is exhilarating but also fraught with danger. Despite meticulous planning and calculations by some of the brightest minds, numerous things can go wrong. This uncertainty makes every astronaut a true hero, risking their lives to push humanity forward. We're witnessing another such episode unfold right now.

Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams and her colleague Barry "Butch" Wilmore were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on June 5 aboard Boeing’s new Starliner capsule—the first people to ride it. The mission was supposed to last for about a week — it has been over a month and they are still stranded in space.

Addressing Earth from space

On Wednesday, July 10, at 8:30 PM IST, Williams and Wilmore addressed Earth live from the ISS. Organized by NASA, this event aimed to shed light on their mission and their experiences in space. Originally scheduled to return on June 13, then June 22, their journey has been repeatedly postponed due to technical issues with the Boeing Starliner spacecraft.

LIVE from the @Space_Station: @NASA_Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams discuss their @BoeingSpace #Starliner Crew Flight Test mission.

— NASA (@NASA) July 10, 2024 ]]>

The mission faced unexpected helium leaks that delayed their return. Despite these setbacks, the astronauts have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability.

“I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem," Williams reassured reporters. During their address, they discussed the mission's specifics, the technical challenges, and ongoing efforts to resolve spacecraft issues.

Astronauts share their unusual experiences

NASA invited the media for the live Earth-to-space call, providing insights into the Boeing Crew Flight Test mission and the astronauts' thoughts on the future of space exploration. The session underscored the astronauts' resilience and NASA's dedication to their safe return.

"The launch was spectacular, and the spacecraft performed unbelievably well," Wilmore said, reflecting on the mission's start. "This was a test flight, and we are expected to make corrections and updates with our control team."

Beyond dealing with spacecraft issues, the astronauts participated in scientific experiments, including using a 3D-printed moon microscope and gene sequencing equipment.

"We've gone through simulations for the spacecraft to handle failures. If there was a problem with the ISS, I am confident we could undock and figure out a way to come home with our team's support," Williams explained when asked about potential further issues.

Wilmore shared his space observations, noting, "I took photos of a storm on the west coast of Africa. I am confident that it was the one that became Hurricane Beryl. It looked impressive from space."

Boeing Starliner’s trials and tribulations

NASA commissioned the Starliner and SpaceX Dragon capsules a decade ago to transport astronauts to and from the space station, investing billions in each project. While SpaceX successfully launched its first manned mission in 2020, Boeing's crewed flight has faced numerous delays due to software and other issues.

Boeing's test mission represents the final step before the Starliner can earn NASA certification for routine astronaut flights. The mission has faced delays due to faulty thrusters, with NASA and Boeing focusing on extensive testing to address these issues.

"Once that testing is done, then we'll look at the plan for landing," said NASA's commercial crew chief Steve Stich. "We're not going to target a specific date until we get that testing completed."

The testing phase could last "a couple weeks" or more, followed by a comprehensive review of the data. Starliner is currently approved to stay docked to the ISS for 45 days, extendable to 90 days using backup systems, provided the lithium-ion batteries remain healthy.

While Starliner is equipped to return the astronauts to Earth in an emergency, it is not yet approved for normal landings until the thruster issues are fully resolved. NASA and Boeing officials reassured that astronauts Wilmore and Williams are not stranded in space.

Last month, a Russian satellite disintegrated into approximately 180 pieces of debris near the ISS's orbit, prompting astronauts, including Wilmore and Williams, to prepare for a potential emergency escape.

"Starliner stood ready to undock and return Wilmore and Williams to Earth if needed," Boeing stated. Fortunately, the debris risk subsided, and astronauts exited their capsules an hour later.