NASA has yet to announce a date for its return journey.

Expect Delays

Boeing is still struggling to figure out when its plagued Starliner spacecraft, which is currently docked to the International Space Station, can safely return NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore.

For the time being, the pair — who managed to get to the space station in one piece aboard the beta version spacecraft earlier this month — are stuck there indefinitely after NASA and Boeing announced last week that the date of their return journey had been pushed back without a scheduled return date.

So far, the return journey has been delayed a total of three times as a result, an unfortunate development for a spacecraft that has already seen countless delays and technical issues spanning several years. And though the odds certainly are that Williams and Wilmore will successfully ride the capsule back to Earth, the continued drama makes it hard not to speculate about why Boeing is having so much trouble doing so, especially when it’s been having plenty of problems back on Earth as well.

Wiki Leaks

Both before and after the spacecraft’s successful launch on June 5, officials have discovered five different helium leaks affecting Starliner’s thruster system.

The thruster system, which relies on helium to adjust the spacecraft’s position in space, already caused Starliner to miss its first docking window with the ISS on June 6. A second attempt was successful, allowing Williams and Wilmore to safely board the station.

In a Friday statement, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich indicated that the agency will take its time to figure out what went wrong and how to get the two astronauts back to the surface.

“We are taking our time and following our standard mission management team process,” he said. “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.”

Stich also indicated that “it is appropriate for us to complete an agency-level review, similar to what was done ahead of the NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return after two months on orbit,” referring to the space company’s first crewed test flight in May 2020.

According to NASA, Starliner “remains cleared for return in case of an emergency on the space station that required the crew to leave orbit and come back to Earth.”

Nonetheless, for now Williams and Wilmore will have to remain patient, with the space agency noting that they won’t return before a scheduled spacewalk on July 2.

Complicating matters, though, NASA has had to cancel a spacewalk on Monday after an astronaut discovered water squirting from her spacesuit and covering her visor with ice.

Despite the many setbacks, officials remain publicly optimistic about Starliner’s future.

“The crew’s feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and they know that every bit of learning we do on the Crew Flight Test will improve and sharpen our experience for future crews,” said Starliner program manager Mark Nappi in an update last week.

More on Starliner: Astronauts Still Stuck on Space Station as Boeing Tries to Figure Out What’s Wrong With Starliner