CAPE CANAVERAL — Boeing was dealt another setback Friday when its all-new Starliner spacecraft failed to meet its ultimate goal on its maiden voyage.
Within an hour of the initial, launch word began to trickle down that something went wrong. It’s now believed that an error with the automated systems caused extra fuel to be burned, making it impossible for Starliner to make it to the International Space Station as originally planned.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine refused to call the mission a failure, but admitted issues have already been spotted.
“Today a lot of things went right,” said Bridenstine. “This is, in fact, why we test.”
The mission was unmanned, meaning no astronauts were in danger when the spacecraft went off-course. In fact, Bridenstine doubled-down on his take that positive steps were made, saying that an on-board crew would have been safe; perhaps even capable of fixing the issue.
The setback, however, stands out because time is running out for NASA to get a program running launching American rockets taking American astronauts to space.
There was hope that the Boeing Space program would be launching live astronauts to space by summer 2020, it’s unclear if that timeline will hold after this setback.
Currently NASA relies on renting seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport crew to, and from, the International Space Station at a cost of $80 million per seat. Russia plans on cutting back its number of flights, which would force the U.S. to cut back on the number of researchers they put on the ISS unless they can hammer out issues with its commercial flights through Boeing or SpaceX.
The setback isn’t just a blow to NASA, but to Boeing which recently announced an upcoming halt in production at its Renton facility for the Boeing 737 MAX planes.
Boeing’s Vice President of Space and Launch Jim Chilton got into details about what went wrong at a news conference Monday morning, telling reporters that they’re zeroing in on the issue.
“It appears that the vehicle was using a mission elapsed timer that was not the mission elapsed timer that the mission was on,” said Chilton. “We don’t know why that happened.”
The Starliner remains in orbit at the time of this publishing, with a modified plan to land Starliner at the original landing location in White Sands, New Mexico. That landing would take place on Sunday morning, allowing the team to test the landing system – the hope is that the crew on the ground will be able to learn more about what went wrong once the spacecraft returns to earth.
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