Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief S Somanath has reassured that the delayed return of Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams from the International Space Station (ISS) is not a cause for concern. He emphasised that the ISS is a safe environment for long-term stays.

In an interview with NDTV, Somanath explained that the delay involves testing Boeing's new crew module, the Starliner. He stated, "It is not just Sunita Williams or any other astronaut. The issue is about testing a new crew module called Boeing Starliner, its ability to go up there and then come back safely. There are enough capabilities with ground launch providers to bring them home. That's not an issue. ISS is a safe place for people to stay for a long time."

Williams and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore were scheduled to return on June 13, but their return has been postponed due to several mechanical issues with the Starliner spacecraft. As of now, there is no set date for their return.

Somanath highlighted the importance of the mission's goal over the delay. He praised Williams for her bravery in testing a new space vehicle. "We are all proud of her. It is courageous to travel on the first flight of a new space vehicle. She herself is part of the design team and used inputs from her experience," he added.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, Steve Stich, mentioned that the space agency is considering extending the Starliner's mission duration from 45 days to 90 days. This extension would allow Boeing and NASA to conduct further ground tests in New Mexico to investigate why some of the Starliner's thrusters failed during the initial journey.

Recently, the Expedition 71 crew members have been busy with various activities. They packed a US cargo craft, cleaned the ISS, studied futuristic piloting techniques, and conducted eye exams. The astronauts launched on June 5 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida as part of a final demonstration to obtain routine flight certification from NASA.

This mission is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, aimed at certifying Boeing's Starliner for routine missions to and from the ISS.

(With Agency Inputs)