Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams
This undated handout picture from Nasa released on July2, 2024 shows NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test astronauts (from top) Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams inside the vestibule between the forward port on the International Space Station’s Harmony module and Boeing's Starliner spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/AFP

Washington: NASA astronauts spending a longer-than-planned residency at the International Space Station because of problems with their Boeing Co. capsule said Wednesday they are confident in the craft's ability to bring them home safely.

"I feel confident that if we had to - if there was a problem with the International Space Station - we'd get in our spacecraft and we can undock, talk to our team and figure out the best way to come home," Sunita "Suni" Williams, NASA astronaut and pilot of the mission, told reporters during a live webcast from space.

"I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem," Williams added.

After delaying the astronauts' return to Earth, NASA and Boeing have not set a departure date for Williams and her companion, NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore, the commander of the Boeing test flight.

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The pair have been living on the space station since June 6, when Boeing's CST-100 Starliner docked with the International Space Station after launching the day prior.

The two astronauts are the first to fly to space on the capsule, which is designed to ferry NASA's astronauts to and from the ISS. The ongoing mission is a critical test flight for Starliner to see if the vehicle is ready to perform regular crewed trips to space.

However, Starliner's test flight has been plagued by ongoing issues. After launching to space, Starliner experienced as many as five separate helium leaks. Additionally, five of the capsule's thrusters - tiny engines the vehicle uses to maneuver through space - failed and had to be rebooted. NASA and Boeing said they were able to bring four of the thrusters back online, while one will remain off throughout the mission.

Engineers have been analysing the issues while Starliner's been docked to the ISS. And on June 28, NASA and Boeing said they would be conducting a new testing campaign at the agency's White Sands facility in New Mexico. The plan entails firing up a thruster similar to the one Starliner uses, to see how it might behave during different phases that the capsule will experience in space.

Depending on what engineers learn from that test, NASA and Boeing will make the decision about when and how Starliner will come home.

"We're going to learn from that," Wilmore said of the White Sands testing. "And we're going to incorporate new processes, new procedures that we will employ if necessary."