• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Jun 20, 2024, 12:37pm EDT
North America
icon

Semafor Signals

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stuck in space, compounding company’s problems on Earth

Insights from The Atlantic, Politico, CNN, and The Guardian

Arrow Down
Starliner crew members Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.
Joe Skipper/Reuters
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

After a myriad delays and budget overruns, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft made it to space on June 5, but now it can’t come back to Earth. The spacecraft is docked at the International Space Station and will spend at least another few days there. NASA and Boeing have set a tentative new return date of June 26.

The delay gives engineers time to investigate helium leaks — which were a known issue — and new problems with the capsule’s thrusters. It’s the latest misstep in a series of issues that have plagued Boeing’s space program for more than a decade.

AD

The setback compounded the problems with Boeing’s aviation division, which came under fire on Tuesday as outgoing CEO Dave Calhoun testified before the Senate.

icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Yet another moment of ‘uncertainty and embarrassment’ for Boeing

Source icon
Sources:  
CNN, Space.com

Starliner’s new problems are another moment of “uncertainty and embarrassment that joins a long list of similar blunders” for Boeing and its capsule, CNN noted. Yet NASA and Boeing have repeatedly stressed that this is a “developmental mission” and that “timelines are very much in flux,” because, at the end of the day, this is a test designed to address issues as they arise — and these new problems do not mean it has failed. At a Tuesday news conference, Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, stressed that he didn’t see “any scenario where Starliner is not going to be able to bring Butch and Suni home,” referring to the two crewmembers who are due to fly the capsule back to Earth.

Boeing’s delays enabled the rise of Elon Musk’s SpaceX

Source icon
Sources:  
Planetary.org, The Atlantic, Politico

When NASA contracted Boeing and SpaceX to build a fleet of commercial spacecrafts in 2014, Boeing was seen as the incumbent with a long history of success that put it at an advantage over then-newcomer SpaceX. But while Boeing has faced issue after issue with Starliner, SpaceX has become NASA’s go-to for astronaut launches and more, The Atlantic noted. A key difference between the two players is their philosophy to engineering and innovation, which could shape the future of space exploration, an analyst told Politico: “Boeing has continued to use its legacy engineering mindset, which is about quality and trying to get everything exactly right the first time, while the SpaceX model is ‘Let’s just go try it and see what works.’”

Boeing needs to repair its reputation, too

Source icon
Sources:  
CNN, The Guardian

While the space and aviation arms of Boeing are separate, both areas have faced issues that can feed into a larger, problematic picture. The road to Starliner’s crew test was long and winding; meanwhile, Boeing’s planes have had serious safety and quality issues that have led to injuries and deaths. On Tuesday, outgoing CEO Dave Calhoun testified before the Senate, answering questions about the company’s mishandling of safety and lack of transparency — ultimately, Boeing hopes the eventual success of the Starliner mission will “restore some luster to its tarnished name,” The Guardian wrote.

Semafor Logo
AD