Hey, How About Another Big Boeing Fail?

David C. Bowman/NASA via AP

Details are scarce, but Tuesday's planned first manned launch of Boeing's troubled Starliner spacecraft was originally delayed until Saturday. Now the years-late liftoff has been put off "indefinitely."


Following two launch delays the week before last, Starliner underwent yet more troubleshooting as ground crews raced to get the ship ready for that Tuesday launch. Ars Technica reported on May 15 that Boeing was "taking a few extra days" to nail down a small helium leak on a "flange on a single reaction control system thruster on the spacecraft's service module." 

It's a small leak in just one of the service module's 28 maneuvering thrusters, but hitting Tuesday's revised launch date required that "engineers can get comfortable" with putting two astronauts — commander Barry Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams — in a slightly leaky spacecraft. 

While NASA hasn't said so, it appears that engineers have neither nailed down the leak nor gotten comfortable with letting Wilmore and Williams fly. Today, Ars Technica's Stephen Clark reported that his NASA sources that the agency's options range "from flying the spacecraft 'as is' with a thorough understanding of the leak and confidence it won't become more significant in flight, to removing the capsule from its Atlas V rocket and taking it back to a hangar for repairs."

"The team has been in meetings for two consecutive days, assessing flight rationale, system performance, and redundancy," NASA announced after last night's scrub. "There is still forward work in these areas, and the next possible launch opportunity is still being discussed. NASA will share more details once we have a clearer path forward."


"Starliner's first unmanned test flight took place in 2019 when a software glitch — caused by Beoing's siloed engineering teams not testing together — caused it to burn off too much fuel, and its planned ISS docking had to be aborted," I wrote last week. "So Boeing decided to fly, at the company's expense, a second uncrewed test flight."

"After more than a year's worth of delays, including a 2021 launchpad revelation of issues with corrosion in 13 propulsion-system valves, (OFT-2) finally flew in 2022. While it successfully docked with ISS, the heat shield burned away in unexpected ways on reentry." There was also a tiny problem with the flammable tape (!!!) Boeing had used to protect the wiring — thousands of feet of it — that had to be replaced.

What gets me is that this first Starliner is the "beauty shot" version of the ship, given years' worth of engineering TLC for its big moment.

When will that moment finally arrive?

If NASA decides to go with that "as is" option, the next launch attempt could come as soon as Saturday. If they have to bring the whole stack — Starliner plus the Atlas launch vehicle — back into the hanger for repairs, the next attempt probably won't come until "at least late summer."


"At least," sheesh. 

I was being facetious last week when I asked whether Starliner would ever fly, but now it's fair to wonder whether that was less sarcasm than prophecy. 

Recommended: CATCH 22: McDonald's Trapped Between Prices That Are Too High... and Too Low?

P.S. Help PJ Media permanently ground the mainstream media by becoming one of our VIP or VIP Gold supporters. You need independent news and analysis, and we need to keep the lights on. You can join here, and don't forget our massive 50% off SAVEAMERICA promo code.


Trending on PJ Media Videos

Join the conversation as a VIP Member