Starliner launch a go despite helium leak

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft's first crewed launch was scrubbed on May 7th due to an issue with a valve on the Atlas V launch rocket. The rocket was pulled off the pad, and the valve was replaced, but another problem was found, this time with the Starliner itself. A helium leak was discovered in one of Starliner's thrusters.

Despite this finding, NASA posted this to X-Twitter:

That's right. They are going ahead with the launch anyway. In a teleconference on May 24th, officials addressed the helium leak, according to

The leak is located in one Aerojet Rocketdyne reaction control system (RCS) thruster that is located in a single "doghouse," one of four such assemblies around the outside of Starliner's service module. It is in a manifold that is "used to open and close valves on each of the thrusters," said NASA's Steve Stich, program manager for the agency's commercial crew program.

He said the situation caused Starliner's team to pay more attention to the manifolds; while NASA says the pre-checks were robust, "maybe in a perfect timeframe. We might have identified this earlier." But that is precisely the role of a test flight, to identify such issues, he noted. 

NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Boeing are evaluating about five solutions to prevent the leak from reoccurring on future missions. Even then, Stich added, "Helium is a tiny molecule. It tends to leak."

Sigh. I was in gym class when Challenger exploded. I was at a funeral when Columbia was lost. It's not like there isn't a history of NASA ignoring problems with catastrophic results. Boeing doesn't have has a stellar record these days, either. Remember when Boeing prioritized safety over their stock price? Good times. All of the things said in the teleconference may well be accurate, but even so, why the rush? What reason, other than cost, is there not to fix a problem you know exists? Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams' lives depend on it. Both astronauts are currently quarantined awaiting the launch, which is now scheduled for June 1. The launch will be streamed on Nasa TV. Godspeed.

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Mike Fincke

Previously: Not again! Another Boeing plane catches fire — makes emergency landing in Indonesia