If Boeing’s Starliner can’t be repaired, how can SpaceX rescue stranded astronauts?

SpaceX may be forced to rescue two astronauts stranded on the International Space Station after their Boeing Starliner suffers a helium leak.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams went into space aboard the Starliner on June 5, and were only supposed to be on the ISS for nine days — but problems with their ship left their return date still up in the air, and NASA is now frantically trying. Help solve the problem.

Boeing-competitor SpaceX will eventually be tapped to bring them home in its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will remain aboard the International Space Station until at least July 2. Reuters
The Starliner is docked at the International Space Station while officials investigate helium leaks. AP

The decision will be a severe blow to troubled space giant Boeing, which spent about $1.5 billion on top of its initial $4.5 billion contract with NASA — hoping to make Starliner a second option to reach the ISS.

As NASA and Boeing officials reiterated that current problems aboard the Starliner do not indicate the need for SpaceX to give in, Crew Dragon is ready for mission.

The SpaceX spacecraft, which recently carried four astronauts to the ISS in March, is capable of carrying two to four passengers at a time, but it can carry additional passengers in an emergency.

Since 2020, SpaceX has been the only commercial company allowed to transport astronauts and cargo to the space station.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Michael Lembeck, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who served as a consultant to Boeing’s spaceflight division from 2009 to 2014, told The Post that the Starliner is still likely to return to Wilmore and Williams’ Earth.

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon could be used to bring astronauts home. via REUTERS

“Right now, I would say there’s very little need for SpaceX to move forward,” Lembeck said. “We need to see a big problem coming in the next couple of days to warrant that reaction.”

Lembeck and Katsuo Kurabayashi, a professor of aerospace engineering at New York University, told The Post that NASA may have delayed the return trip so they could spend more time studying the craft to learn more about the ISS. Wrong and how to avoid it for next task.

While the capsule carrying the astronauts will return to Earth, the service module — which stores the engines, fuel and helium tanks — will not, Lembeck explained.

The Starliner’s shortcomings were an embarrassing blow to the manufacturer, Boeing. NASA/AFP via Getty Images

“With plenty of helium gas remaining, it is prudent for the teams to take enough time to ensure that the Starliner is fully prepared and certified for the return journey,” Kurabayashi added.

The NYU professor noted that the situation remains fluid and that the next updates from NASA will be an indicator of how the issue has developed.

“If by chance they start talking about a rescue mission, that would indicate that the Charliner has some serious, life-threatening hardware defects,” Kurabayashi said.

Boeing hopes to develop its Starliner as a second option for NASA scientists to reach the International Space Station. AP

The last time a NASA astronaut needed help returning to Earth was in 2022, when Russia’s Soyuz capsule spilled with American Frank Rubio on board.

While NASA considered tapping SpaceX for help, Rubio eventually returned in an empty Soyuz capsule launched by Russia.

The incident ended Rubio’s six-month mission by more than a year, or 371 days, the longest length of time for an American in space.

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