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Sunita Williams Stuck in Space: Only 27 Days of Fuel Left – Understanding the Crisis

The space mission involving Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams and fellow astronaut Butch Wilmore has hit a significant snag. Both were scheduled to return to Earth on June 13 after embarking on their journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on June 5. However, technical issues have delayed their return, raising concerns about their safety and the spacecraft’s functionality.

The Starliner Mission

Sunita Williams Stuck in Space
Pic Credit: NASA

Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore traveled to space aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The mission, a critical step for Boeing, marked the first time astronauts were sent to space using the Starliner. Boeing, under a $4.5 billion contract with NASA, had high hopes for this mission. However, a helium leak in the Starliner has disrupted their plans.

Technical Glitches and Safety Concerns

Technical Glitches and Safety Concerns
Pic Credit: NASA

The primary issue causing the delay is a helium leak, which both NASA and Boeing were reportedly aware of before the mission. This leak, considered a minor threat initially, has now rendered one of the thrusters useless. The mission’s initial launch, planned for May 7, was already postponed due to this problem.

With only 27 days of fuel left, there is a race against time to resolve the issues and ensure the astronauts’ safe return. The spacecraft’s total fuel capacity is 45 days, and with 18 days already elapsed, the urgency is palpable.

Sunita Williams: A Veteran Astronaut

Sunita Williams: A Veteran Astronaut

Sunita Williams, aged 59, is no stranger to space. This mission marks her third journey, following previous missions in 2006 and 2012, where she spent a total of 322 days in space. Her extensive experience and previous record of spacewalks make her a seasoned astronaut, but the current predicament is a new challenge.

Current Efforts and Possible Solutions

NASA and Boeing engineers are working tirelessly to fix the Starliner’s issues. There are discussions about potentially sending another spacecraft to bring back the astronauts. Experts suggest that Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crew Dragon might be a viable option if the Starliner cannot be deemed safe for return.

Suneet Williams and Butch Wilmore spoke to their colleagues in the NASA control room from the ISS on June 10. Watch the video:

The Political and Technical Ramifications

NASA’s Position

NASA has not provided a specific timeline for the astronauts’ return but has expressed optimism about resolving the issues by July. The situation underscores the complexities and risks inherent in space missions, even as they become more routine.

Boeing’s Struggles

The problems with the Starliner highlight ongoing issues within Boeing’s space program, which has faced software glitches, design problems, and subcontractor disputes. Despite spending $1.5 billion in addition to the NASA contract, these challenges persist.

The Broader Impact

Comparisons to Kalpana Chawla

Comparisons to Kalpana Chawla

The current situation has inevitably drawn comparisons to Kalpana Chawla, another Indian-origin astronaut who tragically died in the 2003 Columbia disaster. While the circumstances are different, the inherent dangers of space travel are once again in the spotlight.

SpaceX’s Potential Involvement

The possibility of involving SpaceX’s Crew Dragon highlights the increasing role of private companies in space exploration. SpaceX’s proven track record with crewed missions could provide a reliable backup if needed.


Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore’s delayed return from the ISS has brought attention to the technical and logistical challenges of space travel. With only 27 days of fuel left, NASA and Boeing face a critical task to ensure their safe return. This situation not only tests the resilience of space technology but also underscores the importance of thorough pre-mission checks and the need for backup plans in space missions.


What caused the delay in the return of Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore?

A helium leak in the Starliner spacecraft and subsequent thruster issues are the primary causes of the delay.

How much fuel is left for the Starliner spacecraft?

As of now, there are only 27 days of fuel left for the Starliner.

Is there a backup plan to bring the astronauts back?

NASA might consider using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as a backup plan if the Starliner cannot be deemed safe for return.

How many space missions has Sunita Williams undertaken?

This is Sunita Williams’ third space mission. She has previously spent a total of 322 days in space during missions in 2006 and 2012.

What steps are being taken to resolve the Starliner issues?

NASA and Boeing engineers are working on fixing the helium leak and thruster issues. Discussions about sending another spacecraft for the astronauts’ return are also underway.