It may be time for NASA to issue a warranty on Boeing’s Starliner

In a not-so-shocking twist, NASA has once again put the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner on hold. That pesky helium leak discovered earlier in May continued to damage the capsule, and engineers are scrambling to find a workable solution to get things back on track.

It may be surprising now, with all the delays and Boeing’s ongoing struggle with production issues, but there was a time when the Starliner was actually a very promising option for space exploration. Boeing had already proven its ability to be a major aircraft provider and seemed on track to do the same with the spacecraft.

Unfortunately, nearly a decade later, any hopes and dreams that might have rested on Starliner’s shoulders have since begun to falter, replaced by the successes of other companies — like SpaceX — and repeated failures and problems. that plague the Boeing capsule.

It’s been more than ten years since Boeing won its contract with NASA to develop the spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, and now that we’re in the final stretch, the spacecraft has yet to fly humans into space. Not only has the program seen repeated delays – including the most recent launch – but the program has also been plagued by production issues.

Image source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Things like corroded valves and even severe software bugs have helped hold the Starliner up while SpaceX and its Dragon spacecraft have continued to step in to fill that void. Perhaps one of the most egregious issues was the fact that Boeing discovered problems with the design of its parachute system and the fact that it had used flammable tape inside the capsule. That delayed the first crew launch from its 2023 launch date, and no, more than a year later, we’re still waiting.

Mistakes happen, especially when you’re creating something that needs to be designed to survive the rigors of space. But with NASA still holding up the launch due to a persistent helium leak they can’t figure out how to fix, I can’t help but wonder why NASA and Boeing keep pouring money into Starliner when all the cards seem stacked against him.

The two astronauts who will travel to the International Space Station aboard the capsule for its first crewed flight are certainly braver than most to put their faith in the Starliner’s harrowing history. With the last launch date canceled and NASA having nothing to reschedule, however, I wonder if we may finally be seeing the beginning of the end for the Starliner.

I know NASA desperately wants another company to rely on for space launches, as a monopoly certainly gives Elon Musk-led SpaceX a huge advantage. But if that freedom comes with the risk that the Boeing capsule certainly seems to offer, is it really worth it?

For me, it isn’t. But maybe NASA and Boeing will finally figure things out, and we’ll see the Starliner become the masterpiece Boeing always wanted it to be. I guess only time will tell. For now, though, I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.

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