Boeing's 1st Starliner astronaut mission extended through June 18

a silvery white space capsule hovers in orbit with earth in the background
Boeing's Starliner capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking on June 6, 2024. (Image credit: NASA)

The first astronaut mission of Boeing's Starliner capsule will last a bit longer than we'd thought.

Starliner launched on June 5, carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station (ISS) on a shakeout cruise called Crew Flight Test (CFT).

Wilmore and Williams arrived at the orbiting lab on June 6 for a roughly week-long stay — or so we thought. The duo, and Starliner, will actually get to spend a few more days off Earth, NASA announced over the weekend.

"@NASA and @BoeingSpace teams set a return date of no earlier than Tuesday, June 18, for the agency’s Boeing Crew Flight Test. The additional time in orbit will allow the crew to perform a spacewalk on Thursday, June 13, while engineers complete #Starliner systems checkouts," NASA ISS officials said on Sunday (June 9) via X.

Related: Boeing Starliner 1st astronaut flight: Live updates

CFT is the third spaceflight for Starliner, following uncrewed test flights toward the ISS in December 2019 and May 2022.

Starliner suffered several glitches on that debut voyage and failed to meet up with the orbiting lab as planned. The capsule succeeded on its second try, setting the stage for CFT.

The landmark crewed mission faced several hurdles on the road to the launch pad, however. For example, engineers discovered issues with Starliner's parachute system and its wiring, much of which turned out to be wrapped in flammable tape. Troubleshooting these problems, and testing the fixes, pushed CFT's launch date to the right.

Starliner has also encountered issues during CFT, including small helium leaks and a few misbehaving thrusters. But these problems are minor, mission team members say, and they have been dealt with successfully so far.

If all goes well on CFT, Starliner will be certified to fly six-month astronaut missions to and from the ISS for NASA. SpaceX already does this with its Dragon capsule; Elon Musk's company is in the middle of its eighth long-duration crewed flight to the ISS, known as Crew-8.

Both companies won contracts to provide this ferry service from NASA's Commercial Crew Program back in 2014. Boeing got $4.2 billion, and SpaceX was awarded $2.6 billion.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Unclear Engineer
    This seems really odd. Is it the crew of Starliner that will be doing the spacewalk? It seems to read that way, but it is not clearly what was meant.

    If it is the Starliner crew, then it seems as though there must be something about Starliner that we are not being told.
  • newtons_laws
    Unclear Engineer said:
    This seems really odd. Is it the crew of Starliner that will be doing the spacewalk? It seems to read that way, but it is not clearly what was meant.

    If it is the Starliner crew, then it seems as though there must be something about Starliner that we are not being told.
    Yes, the way it's written it implies the Starliner crew will be doing the spacewalk. Have they trained for that, and which spacesuits will they be using, are the ones they wore in the starliner capsule designed for spacewalking? Or will it be other NASA crew members of the ISS doing the spacewalk?
  • 24launch
    No, it's not the Starliner crew. Their suits, like the current SpaceX suits are only designed for life support in case of loss of pressure within the capsule. This article was a little vague in the wording.

    The Live updates thread/article states:

    A spacewalk planned for June 13 being performed by a different crew aboard the ISS would have overlapped with Starliner's originally scheduled departure time, so NASA has decided to push the mission's ISS departure to June 18.
  • Unclear Engineer
    That makes more sense. And is somewhat of a relief, considering the list of issues with Starliner. Attitude control (spacecraft, not astronaut) is critical for reentry, so this problem with multiple thrusters is making me nervous.
  • HerbJerb
    Boeing issued a 2x value contract and can’t deliver a launch on schedule, and operability is yet to be fully proven. Gotta love that military industrial complex.
  • 24launch
    I hear you all and share your concerns.

    In the forums on another space news site there have been a lot more updates and yeah, it doesn't give one a lot of confidence - not that we were overly confident with the mountains having to be moved just getting it launched and docked with the ISS. Especially since this mission is the 3rd flight of Starliner and is supposed to be the FINAL check-out before they start actual commercial missions next spring with a full crew, alternating with SpaceX every 6 months.

    I don't know if they've gotten them sorted out but there have been chronic communications issues between Starliner and the ISS as well as between Starliner and the ground stations prior to and since docking. Systems have been going offline with Butch manually bringing them back online and trying to troubleshoot. Plus the whole issue with the cooling system going through all the water and having to resupply from the ISS, requiring an update to the next cargo mission.

    Again, why are we seeing this on the 3rd and final "check-out" flight?

    I did see that Nelson suggested using camera on the Canada arm to do visual inspections of the capsule to see if there are any external observable issues with the thrusters. Boeing has said both they thought the thurster issues were tolerences set too low in the software (again, why all this again on the 3rd flight??) or potential hardware/QC issues from the supplier (Aerojet Rockdyne). I haven't been following as closely the last day or so to see if that's still a plan. The big problem of course is the thrusters are all in the service module which will be jettisoned before reentry. So they will never be able to inspect it post flight to understand what's really going on.

    It will be interesting to follow the post-flight review over the coming months. More details of the issues will be revealed / leaked no doubt!