Boeing shoots for the stars, misses

Last night, Boeing and NASA were supposed to launch the first crewed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner astronaut capsule.

Driving the news: No doors flew off, but the launch was cancelled after a problem was discovered with the NASA rocket propelling Starliner. The self-piloting craft was supposed to carry two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

  • A make-up date was not announced but could happen as soon as tonight.

Catch-up: In 2014, NASA awarded Boeing and SpaceX multibillion-dollar contracts to build capsules for astronauts heading to the ISS. SpaceX had gotten the job done by 2020, but Boeing struggled with tech issues, a failed test flight in 2019, a US$1.4 billion cost overrun, and now this.

Why it matters: NASA currently relies entirely on the Dragon capsule created by SpaceX to ferry astronauts. Starliner’s success would give NASA a backup, and another viable option for future commutes to low-Earth orbit for other spacefaring groups.  

  • “Though there’s no crushing demand for space tourism,” one space policy expert wrote, “[...] competition is important in any market to drive down costs and increase innovation.”

Zoom out: When the mission resumes, it will be chance for Boeing to score a much-needed win. Shares have plummeted ~29% this year after multiple incidents with its Max line of airplanes. Maybe proving it can make something that safely goes to space will soothe travellers’ fears over flying.—QH