That, however, did not come to fruition.
Meanwhile, Boeing is still trying to get through an uncrewed test flight. The company will make its second attempt this week, hoping a flawless performance will mend its image as the fallen star of human spaceflight.
Here’s a look back at Starliner’s trying past.
In 2014, NASA awarded fixed-price contracts — meaning the space agency would only pay the initial agreed-upon price and not a penny more — to Boeing and SpaceX. The move cemented their slots as the companies that would take NASA astronauts back to space under the Commercial Crew program. Boeing’s awards totaled $4.2 billion, a significant markup compared to the $2.6 billion SpaceX was given, though the company has said that’s because SpaceX had already received millions for development of an uncrewed version of its Dragon vehicle.
Though both spacecrafts were expected to blast astronauts into space just a few years later, as the end of the decade neared, it became clear that SpaceX was outpacing Boeing.
And almost immediately after Starliner launched on December 20, 2019, it was clear something was wrong.
Later, it was revealed that Starliner’s internal clock was off by 11 hours, which caused the spacecraft to misfire and stumble off course, NASA and Boeing officials told reporters. Starliner was forced to make an early return to Earth.
Boeing agreed to fix the issues and pay for a second attempt at the uncrewed test flight, setting aside nearly half a billion dollars. Months of troubleshooting, safety reviews and investigations followed the test flight.
Former astronaut pulls out of mission
Former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who left the government astronaut corps in 2011 to help Boeing design and build the Starliner, was slated to command the first crewed mission of Starliner as a private astronaut. But after the failure of its inaugural flight test, Ferguson announced he could no longer fly on the vehicle, citing scheduling conflicts.
Though the crewed mission has been rescheduled several times, there do not appear to be plans to return Ferguson to the mission.
Sticky valves and Florida humidity
Boeing believed it was ready to put Starliner back to the test last year, and it scheduled a second attempt at the orbital flight test — this one dubbed OFT-2 — for August.
More problems quickly arose. When the spacecraft was rolled out to its launch pad and began going through pre-flight ground checks, engineers discovered that key valves on the Starliner were sticking. Eventually Boeing announced that the problem could not be fixed on the launch pad, and the whole vehicle had to be rolled back to the assembly building for further troubleshooting.
In press conferences leading up to Thursday’s test fight, Boeing officials revealed that they will fly OFT-2 this week with a “short-term” fix in place, but the company may ultimately opt to redesign the valve system.
Boeing confirmed in a statement that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the employee and the subcontractor. “The matter was settled by all of the parties; the terms of the settlement are confidential,” the statement reads.
Court documents confirm the matter was settled in December 2021.
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