What's going on with Starliner spacecraft? Boeing, NASA insist astronauts are not 'stranded.'

Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams have been on the International Space Station weeks longer than anticipated.

NASA astronauts  Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, wearing Boeing spacesuits, before boarding the Boeing Starliner.
NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams before they boarded the Boeing Starliner spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on June 5. (Miguel J. Rodriguez/AFP via Getty Images)

Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been in space for more than three weeks — with no specific plan for an arrival date back to Earth. Space observers have claimed that the astronauts are “stranded,” but NASA says that’s not the case.

Starliner is Boeing’s spacecraft that's designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. However, this year marks the first mission of Starliner with people onboard, after one failed empty-capsule mission in 2019 and a completed one in 2022.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest developments in space exploration.

🚀 A look at Starliner’s launch this month

Starliner commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams, both of whom are retired Navy captains and veteran NASA astronauts, launched Starliner on June 5. (The June 5 launch was actually the third try with astronauts — the first two were canceled due to rocket issues.)

Wilmore and Williams were originally supposed to complete a 10-day flight before returning to Earth on June 14. That return date was delayed multiple times. Now, Wilmore and Williams are still at the space station — and, per an announcement from NASA, won’t return to Earth until sometime in July at the earliest.

Yahoo News has reached out to NASA for comment.

🧑‍🚀 What’s happening now?

Steve Stich, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, told reporters that “Butch and Suni are not stranded in space.” NASA’s plan is to return them on Starliner, which is “working well.” However, more work needs to be done before they can return to Earth.

While NASA says that Starliner is fit to come back to Earth in the event of an emergency, the spaceship experienced what they believe to be helium leaks and thruster issues when it docked on the space station. Both NASA and Boeing want to take a closer look at why this happened, which is why Wilmore and Williams will remain on the space station until further testing can be completed. “Their spacecraft is working well, and they're enjoying their time on the space station,” Stich said.

Technically, Starliner has 10 times the amount of helium it needs to return to Earth — even with the leaks, Stich previously told reporters. However, testing on the ground allows them to make sure the leaks won’t get worse.

🌎 What’s the game plan?

That testing will happen at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico beginning July 2. NASA and Boeing will attempt to replicate the thruster usage during the flight. This should last about two weeks, with additional analysis to follow — which is why, as of now, NASA and Boeing do not yet have a landing date for Starliner.

Both Wilmore and Williams spent time at the space station before — so keeping them there shouldn’t be an issue, even if it is a shift from the original plan. Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, told Scientific American, “Butch and Suni can stay onboard ISS almost indefinitely if needed, so they are in no danger.”