Pobody's Nerfect

NASA's Commercial Crew program was designed to provide a safe, reliable, and cost-effective way to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station from US soil.

While SpaceX has made considerable progress with its Crew Dragon spacecraft under the program, with two test flights and eight crewed operational flights to the ISS over the past five years, Boeing has lagged far behind with its Starliner capsule.

After many years of technical issues, a failed uncrewed test flight, and many delays, Boeing and NASA are now finally preparing for Starliner's first crewed test flight in May.

There will be two NASA astronauts on board the capsule. And the first commander, Butch Wilmore, is warning that not all will go according to plan.

"The expectation from the media should not be perfection," Wilmore told Ars Technica. "This is a test flight. Flying and operating in space is hard. It’s really hard, and we’re going to find some stuff. That’s expected."

737 Max Starliner

Boeing's struggles with its Starliner capsule really came to light when its first uncrewed orbital test flight in 2019 ended prematurely due to a software glitch. A follow-up attempt also faced many months of delays due to a variety of technical problems.

Despite the initial hiccups, the company's attempt in May 2022 successfully saw a Starliner dock at the ISS and make its return back to Earth.

But even that success was mired in technological issues, from misfiring thrusters and weirdly behaving cooling systems to underperforming parachutes.

Then, of course, there's the drama surrounding Boeing's commercial airliners. Earlier this week, David Calhoun, the CEO of the deeply embattled aerospace giant, announced he was resigning following an alarmingly long list of quality lapses.

Boeing officials, though, are hoping to move on with the upcoming crewed test flight.

"We can safely say those issues are behind us," Boeing's Starliner program manager Mark Nappi told Ars.

Nappi and his team appear to be cautiously optimistic about May's attempt. Experts back on the ground are going through all the safety features and failsafes in preparation.

As Space.com reports, teams simulated the event of the station encountering space junk, which would force crews to shelter inside the Starliner capsule and undock from the ISS.

Nonetheless, this isn't an operational crew flight, and teams are expecting to make several modifications before NASA certifies it as a worthy alternative to SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

"The crew is so prepared, [but] it's a test flight," ascent flight director Mike Lammers told Space.com. "We know we're going to learn things, and we're going to really enjoy it."

More on Starliner: Boeing Preparing to Launch Astronauts as Parts Fall Off Its Planes Mid-Flight

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