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Boeing's space capsule shows further helium leaks during its first test flight with astronauts

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Boeing's Space capsule further leaks occurred during the first test flight with astronauts as it approached the International Space Station on Thursday.

The Starliner capsule already had a small helium leak when it shot into orbit on Wednesday. Boeing and NASA managers were confident that they could get the propulsion system under control despite the problem and that further leaks were unlikely. But just hours after launch, two more leaks occurred. There was no immediate information on the size of these new leaks.

Despite the problem, mission controllers pushed for a midday docking with the space station and continued to monitor the problem. Mission control stated that the leaks were not expected to impact the rendezvous.

Helium is used to pressurize the fuel lines of the Starliner's engines, which are essential for maneuvering. Before launch, engineers developed a plan to circumvent any further leaks in the system. A defective rubber seal, no bigger than a shirt button, is blamed for the original leak.

After the space shuttles were retired, NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX's taxi service launched in 2020. Boeing was scheduled to launch around the same time, but was held up for years by safety concerns and other issues.

On Wednesday, Boeing finally took off from Florida with NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

Boeing plans to keep the Starliner at the space station for at least eight days before piloting it for a landing in the western United States.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. All content is the responsibility of the AP.