Starliner return delayed again, this time indefinitely

NASA's troubled Starliner spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station on June 5th, after two previous attempts were scrubbed due to issues with the launch system and thrusters. The helium leaks that caused the second attempt to be scrubbed were known to persist during the successful launch, and additional leaks were discovered after docking.

Starliner was originally scheduled to return to Earth on June 14th, but NASA rescheduled for June 26th to further study the leaking thrusters. Now, another delay has been announced, with no definite return date set. NASA's insistence that the astronauts are not 'stuck' at the ISS, and essentially, the agency's position is 'everything is fine,' only adds to the lack of transparency that has been a recurring issue. This lack of openness continues to be a bad look, both for the agency and the Starliner program. 

In some sense, it is helpful for NASA and Boeing to have Starliner docked to the space station for a longer period of time. They can gather more data about the performance of the vehicle on long-duration missions—eventually Starliner will fly operational missions that will enable astronauts to stay on orbit for six months at a time.

However, this vehicle is only rated for a 45-day stay at the space station, and that clock began ticking on June 6. Moreover, it is not optimal that NASA feels the need to continue delaying the vehicle to get comfortable with its performance on the return journey to Earth. During a pair of news conferences since Starliner docked to the station officials have downplayed the overall seriousness of these issues—repeatedly saying Starliner is cleared to come home "in case of an emergency." But they have yet to fully explain why they are not yet comfortable with releasing Starliner to fly back to Earth under normal circumstances.

Ars Technica 

Perhaps after Starliner's return, NASA will be more forthcoming with details, but for now, all we can do is wait and hope for the astronauts to come home safe.

Previously: Starliner launches two Americans into orbit