A dramatic, fictionalized crash of a spacecraft. This image is AI generated and does not represent what happened.

Boeing’s launch of its Starliner spacecraft was canceled Tuesday (Aug. 3) with only 3 minutes to go, preventing the space vehicle, which is bound for the International Space Station, from taking off and leaving the U.S.-built half of the orbiting laboratory without a new crew over the next few months.

After months of delay caused by multiple issues and not enough confidence in the spacecraft by NASA to “go for launch,” the Boeing Starliner, with its dummy astronaut “Rosie the Rocketeer” on board, initially moved Saturday onto Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Once more, Houston faces a complication.

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard, was poised for takeoff to the International Space Station on Saturday. With just 3 minutes and 50 seconds remaining in the countdown, an automatic abort siren blared across the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, signaling that Starliner’s flight had been canceled and that the crew and vehicle should be saved.

Who’s to blame? A misbehaving ground-system computer that isn’t following directions. It’s a bit like that frustrating colleague who somehow always manages to mess up the office printer just when you need it the most.

After the abort, officials from NASA and Boeing did their best to appear undaunted during the post-scrub press conference. Mark Nappi, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program boss, kept the mood light, even when the inevitable questions about the disappointment at this latest setback arose. “The disappointment lasts for about three seconds,” Nappi quipped. “And then you just immediately get busy and do your job.” Those at the top have some big leaps of faith to take to maintain their confidence in this program, which many believe has a better shot at putting astronauts in space than SpaceX’s Dragon.

The key delivery the Starliner was tasked with was a urine pump—the replacement part no doubt meant to ship with other critical items up to the space station. And for the four Americans currently on the International Space Station, the moment is a particularly big deal.

The most recent mistake is just another part in the long history of delays and accidents for Starliner. The spacecraft has suffered from valve problems, software problems, and exorbitant cost overruns that even the Pentagon would find hard to justify. Meanwhile, Crew Dragon has been shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS without a hitch.
What is the plan for Starliner now? After canceling a backup launch plan for Sunday, NASA and Boeing have set a new tentative date of June 5 for takeoff. But don’t get your hopes up too high just yet. If we’ve learned anything from Starliner’s saga, it’s that the space capsule seems to run on uncertainty.

However, at least Wilmore and Williams had the opportunity to wear those cool blue spacesuits for a while. Fashion never rests, even when rockets do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *