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Another Embarrassing Moment for Boeing: Starliner Stuck at ISS

Boeing’s Starliner capsule atop an Atlas V rocket stands ready for its upcoming mission at Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Sunday, May 5, 2024, in Cape Canaveral, Fla

On Tuesday, NASA announced that two American astronauts who are aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will have to delay their return again because the Boeing-produced Starliner spacecraft is still dealing with technical issues that plagued the ship’s launch and rendezvous with the ISS.Boeing’s Starliner took astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the ISS on June 6, they were supposed to return about a week later, but will now be aboard the space station until at least June 26.During its launch and rendezvous, the Starliner experienced helium leaks and faulty steering thrusters. NASA said on Tuesday that the helium leak has subsided since it connected with the ISS but one of the five steering thrusters that were having issues is still inoperable. The Starliner program has proven to be a boondoggle for Boeing: over budget and behind schedule.The June 6 launch, Starliner’s first crewed mission, had already been delayed several times. Its test flights were also plagued with issues. Its first, an unmanned flight in 2019, ended in failure after it misfired in orbit due to a software glitch. Its second test flight was scheduled for 2021 but was delayed until 2022 due to thruster issues. It then had a largely successful flight, but the ship’s parachute had to be resigned after it was discovered that the electrical tape on its lines was flammable.Beyond PoliticsMaiden Launch of Crewed Starliner Mission Postponed Again Due to Technical Issues – NASA1 June, 20:41 GMTSteve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said that the thruster issues from the second test flight may not have been completely solved before the Starliner’s first crewed mission.“We thought we had fixed that problem,” Stich said. “I think we’re missing something fundamental that’s going on inside the thruster.”One reason for the delay, NASA noted, was that because the malfunctioning parts were not intended to survive re-entry, they would like to study the issue as much as possible while still aboard the ISS. NASA said that the Starliner can remain on the ISS for up to 45 days.In 2014, NASA announced it had granted contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to help launch the commercialization of space and would use the two companies to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS, a task the US had been tapping Russia’s Roscosmos for after the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.MilitaryFalcon Heavy Carrying US ‘Secret Orbital Plane’ Successfully Launched – SpaceX29 December 2023, 06:59 GMTWhile SpaceX has already successfully performed nine crewed missions to the ISS and back, this was Boeing’s first crewed mission and it is quickly becoming an embarrassment for the company. If NASA and Boeing cannot solve the Starliner’s issues, Boeing may be forced to ask SpaceX to launch a mission to retrieve Williams and Wilmore, further adding to their embarrassment.It has been estimated that the Starliner project is already more than $1 billion over budget.Boeing insists that its space and commercial flight divisions operate independently, but it is nevertheless difficult not to be reminded of its issues in that field as the company’s state-of-the-art spacecraft remains docked in the ISS, stranding two astronauts in the process.As the development of the Starliner was just a few years in, in 2018, a Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board. Five months later, another Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed near Addis Ababa airport, killing all 157 people on board. An attorney representing the families of victims from both flights argued in a letter to the Justice Department that the “maximum possible fine” of $24 billion should be imposed on Boeing.More recently, Boeing planes have been plagued by issues during flights, including a door of a 737 Max 9 airliner that flew off mid-flight over Alaska in January. Multiple whistleblowers have come forward, including two that died suddenly either before or after their testimony, that have alleged a culture of lax safety procedures. On Tuesday, a new whistleblower came forward, alleging that Boeing improperly tracked and stored parts and said it was likely that those parts were installed on planes.AmericasBoeing Makes Push to Avoid Federal Charges Over Alleged Breach of Safety Deal – Reports13 June, 03:43 GMTDuring a US Senate subcommittee testimony by Boeing CEO David Calhoun, the executive attempted to apologize to the families of the victims of Boeing’s plane crashes. “I apologize for the grief we caused. We are focused on safety,” he told the gathered crowd who held up pictures of their dead family members.Calhoun has not publicly apologized to the astronauts aboard the ISS. In March, he announced that he would step down as CEO of Boeing at the end of the year.

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