NASA Hopeful Boeing Starliner Can Return Astronauts to Earth

With NASA astronauts docked at the International Space Station far longer than planned, the agency’s leadership on Wednesday acknowledged potential alternatives to Boeing’s (NYSE:BA) Starliner for returning the crew to Earth.

Still, the Boeing’s spacecraft remains the primary option for returning crew, officials said.

Officials say Starliner capsule “Calypso” may return as soon as the end of this month from its extended ISS stay, pending results of testing a faulty propulsion system. Starliner has now been in space 36 days and counting as the agency and Boeing perform additional testing in New Mexico before clearing the spacecraft to return.

The mission is the first time Starliner is carrying people, flying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

NASA’s Commercial Crew manager Steve Stich emphasized during a press conference that the first “option today is to return Butch and Suni on Starliner,” adding, “we don’t see any reason” currently to turn to the agency’s other transportation option, which would be SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to bring back the astronauts.

Stich — while acknowledging that a SpaceX capsule could be part of contingency plans in case Starliner were to return from the ISS empty — noted that NASA does not yet need to “make a decision as to whether we need to do anything different.”

BA, for its part, saw its stock gain 69 cents first thing Thursday to $184.42.

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