Why Boeing's Astronaut Launch Was Called Off

Buzzing valve raised concerns Monday night
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 6, 2024 7:21 AM CDT
Updated May 7, 2024 4:05 PM CDT
Boeing Ready for Test Flight to ISS With Astronauts on Board
NASA's Boeing Crew Flight Test astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore are seen at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a mission dress rehearsal on April 26.   (Frank Micheaux/NASA via AP)
UPDATE May 7, 2024 4:05 PM CDT

Boeing's first astronaut launch was called off because of a valve problem on the rocket Monday night. The two NASA test pilots had just strapped into Boeing's Starliner capsule for a flight to the International Space Station when the countdown was halted, just two hours before the planned liftoff. United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno said an oxygen pressure-relief valve on the upper stage of the company's Atlas rocket started fluttering open and closed, creating a loud buzz, the AP reports. The valve may have exceeded its 200,000 lifetime cycles, Bruno said, which means it would have to be replaced, pushing the launch into next week. But if engineers can determine the valve is still within that limit, the launch team could try again as soon as Friday.

May 6, 2024 7:21 AM CDT

After years of delays and stumbles, Boeing is finally poised to launch astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. It's the first flight of Boeing's Starliner capsule with a crew on board, a pair of NASA pilots who will check out the spacecraft during the test drive and a weeklong stay at the space station, per the AP. NASA turned to US companies for astronaut rides after the space shuttles were retired. Elon Musk's SpaceX has made nine taxi trips for NASA since 2020, while Boeing has managed only a pair of unoccupied test flights. The company's long-awaited astronaut demo is slated for liftoff Monday night. Provided this tryout goes well, NASA will alternate between Boeing and SpaceX to get astronauts to and from the space station. More:

  • Capsule: Boeing's Starliner capsule is about 10 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. It can fit up to seven people, though NASA crews typically will number four. No one was aboard Boeing's two previous Starliner test flights.

  • Crew: Veteran NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Suni Williams are retired Navy captains who spent months aboard the space station years ago. They joined the test flight after the original crew bowed out as the delays piled up. Wilmore, 61, is a former combat pilot from Mount Juliet, Tennessee, while Williams, 58, is a helicopter pilot from Needham, Massachusetts.
  • Ready for prime time? The two astronauts have been involved in the capsule's development and insist Starliner is ready for prime time; otherwise, they say, they wouldn't strap in for the launch. "We're not putting our heads in the sand," Williams says. "Sure, Boeing has had its problems. But we are the QA [quality assurance]. Our eyes are on the spacecraft."
  • Test flight: Starliner will blast off on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It will be the first time astronauts ride an Atlas since NASA's Project Mercury, starting with John Glenn when he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. Sixty-two years later, this will be the 100th launch of the Atlas V, which is used to hoist satellites as well as spacecraft. Starliner should reach the space station in roughly 26 hours and will remain docked for eight days, undergoing checks before landing in New Mexico or elsewhere in the American West.

More here.

(More Boeing stories.)

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