April 17, 2024

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Boeing assumes a backup role for NASA astronaut flybys

Boeing assumes a backup role for NASA astronaut flybys

Boeing's Starliner program is one step closer to taking people into space for the first time. Now scheduled to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in May, Boeing was once seen as neck-and-neck with SpaceX. This crew flight test launch was originally planned for November 2018.

Nearly two years later, the Starliner's previous test flight went off course, but NASA and Boeing's messaging focused on, “We'll fix it and fly soon!”

Well, it took more than two years to fly a second test flight. A year after that I tried to put expectations into context I wondered where the sense of urgency was. Another year brings us to today.

On the eve of the flight crew, Boeing's messages are now closer to “NASA wants us as support and we are committed to no more than that.” I'm paraphrasing, but this was the main talking point last week as agency leadership explained why Starliner is still useful.

This is understandable, given how much money Boeing has He's already eating (He will probably continue to eat from then on.) “There is still a risk that additional losses may be recorded in the coming periods.”). But that's also unfortunate, as Starliner seems unlikely to fly any more than the six NASA missions Boeing has contracted for. Non-NASA missions also seem like an afterthought, unlike the multiple private flights SpaceX's Dragon has completed in just the first few years since it began carrying humans.

What's also unfortunate about this situation is that none of these years of setbacks and cost overruns appear to have lit a fire under Boeing's aerospace leadership. At a recent press conference, Mark Nappi, vice president of Boeing Starliner, had this to say about watching SpaceX astronauts fly over the past four years:

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“I wouldn't call it frustrating at all,” Naby said. “I think we would like to progress further at this time, there's no doubt about that.”

Human spaceflight is a small market within the broader space industry, but it is hugely important when it comes to the future of companies building space stations, moon bases and more. Hopefully another company like Sierra Space or Blue Origin will move the crew vehicle competition to SpaceX.

Boeing, not discouraged after falling behind for years, certainly won't.