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May 8, 2024

Boeing Starliner’s Third Attempt Foiled: Sunita Williams’ Space Mission Delayed Again

Boeing’s ambitious attempt to launch astronaut Sunita Williams on her third space mission has been thwarted once more, as the Boeing Starliner faced another setback. The scheduled lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida’s Cape Canaveral was called off just 90 minutes before its intended time due to a technical glitch.

The United States space agency NASA reported that an off-nominal condition on an oxygen relief valve led to the postponement of the launch. Sunita Williams, along with fellow NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, was set to embark on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, marking the Starliner’s first crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Despite the disappointment, both astronauts safely exited the spacecraft.

No new launch date has been announced yet, leaving the future of the mission uncertain.

This mission held significant importance for Boeing as it would have marked the company’s entry into commercial crew transportation to and from the ISS, trailing behind Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the mission aimed to thoroughly evaluate the spacecraft’s capabilities, from launch to docking, and concluding with its safe return to Earth in the western United States. NASA’s strategy has been shifting towards purchasing such services from the commercial sector, moving away from owning and operating these vehicles themselves.

The failed launch comes at a challenging time for Boeing, with its aviation sector already under strain due to a series of accidents. Additionally, the company’s space division faces scrutiny following the challenges in the development of the Starliner.

Originally slated for its inaugural uncrewed test flight in 2015, the Starliner faced multiple delays, pushing its launch to 2019. During the delayed test, software glitches caused an internal clock malfunction, leading to thrusters over-firing, depleting fuel reserves, and preventing the capsule from reaching the space station.

A subsequent attempt was planned for August 2021 but was postponed to May 2022 due to propulsion system issues. Although the Starliner successfully completed its mission, concerns arose over certain thrusters’ performance and the craft’s cooling system.

The repeated delays and setbacks in the Starliner’s development have not only affected Boeing’s reputation in the space sector but have also raised questions about the reliability of its spacecraft. As the company works to address these issues, the future of crewed missions to the ISS, including Sunita Williams’ eagerly awaited space journey, remains uncertain.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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