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You’ll never guess what happened to Boeing’s Starliner

Published Mar 2nd, 2021 6:45PM EST
starliner delay
Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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To say that Boeing’s Starliner program has not gone as planned would be the understatement of the century. The Starliner spacecraft, which NASA included in the Commercial Crew Program alongside the Crew Dragon from SpaceX, has failed to meet expectations in just about every way. The spacecraft was supposed to already be taking human astronauts to and from the International Space Station, just like SpaceX’s vehicle, but it has yet to even complete its uncrewed test mission to the ISS.

Now, as SpaceNews reports, Starliner will yet again miss its launch date, according to NASA. Space agency officials recently provided an update on their active programs, revealing that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on its second formal crewed mission by late April, with April 20th being the earliest possible date for that mission. Starliner, meanwhile, will miss its April 2nd launch date by at least another week.

The Starliner program has been an absolute disaster in so many ways that it’s actually painful to remember that NASA dumped $4.2 billion of taxpayer money on Boeing to build the spacecraft. It has seen delay after delay, and once the vehicle was finally ready to travel to space on its uncrewed test mission, the spacecraft glitched out, burned a bunch of fuel it wasn’t supposed to burn and had to come back to Earth without ever making it to the orbiting laboratory.

NASA and Boeing played it off as though the mission was a “success” despite the fact that Starliner didn’t do what it was supposed to do. In the months that followed, NASA took a hard look at the Starliner vehicle and its development and came up with a huge list of things it wanted Boeing to address. The company finally checked all those boxes, but it looks like the spacecraft just isn’t ready for its time in the spotlight.

The new potential launch date is no earlier than April 9th. A delay of one week might not seem like much, but it’s just a symptom of what is clearly a larger problem. Keep in mind that Starliner was supposed to be done by 2017. That was four years ago, and the spacecraft still hasn’t completed an uncrewed mission, much less a crewed trip to space with a full complement of astronaut passengers.

As far as NASA is concerned, it already has a capable crew vehicle that it can use whenever it wants in the form of the Crew Dragon. The space agency might not be in any hurry to add another vehicle to its fleet, but the fact that Boeing is being paid billions (and even more, due to years of delays) for not living up to its promises is a bit hard to stomach.