Boeing's Starliner Mission Flops Due To A Broken Clock

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Keith's note: Boeing's Starliner was launched on time this morning. ULA gave it a perfect flight up to the point where the spacecraft separated. Then things started to go wrong. A planned engine burn did not happen because the spacecraft's clock was wrong and the spacecraft thought that it was somewhere else. Boeing tried to do a burn to fix the situation but a gap between several TDRSS satellites meant that the command would have been sent too late to allow the mission to have a chance to reach ISS. Boeing says that it has no idea why the clock was wrong. The curent orbital path will bring Starliner into a position to do a landing at White Sands in 48 hours. In talking about this problem NASA and Boeing tried to spin the mission as a success even though a prime objective was to dock with the ISS. It is too soon to know if a repeat flight to accomplish the original objectives will be required or if the next flight - with a crew - will be the first time that a Starliner docks with ISS.

One thing that was rather odd today: as soon as things started to go wrong NASA went dark. No TV, no meaningful updates. They said to go visit Boeing's website which had no information. After a couple of hours information started to emerge - not from NASA PAO or Boeing but from Jim Bridenstine's personal Twitter account. Indeed @NASA and @BoeingSpace were mostly mute. It is certainly good that the NASA Administrator has the personal capability and intent to inform the public what is going on. But I have to say that in the 25 years I have been covering NASA I have never seen such a news blackout drop into place for a launch or landing - and that includes the loss of Columbia.

Of course this is Boeing's mission so NASA is somewhat in the back seat in terms of PR. Boeing has none of the cameras on their flight like SpaceX does - just video images of motionless people with headsets staring at monitors. Boeing had to be ordered by Bridenstine to live webcast their recent parachute test (which also had problems that Boeing tried to ignore). And Boeing is lobbying Congress for the SLS Exploration Upper Stage which they claim will be used for Artemis III despite public statements to the contrary by the NASA Administrator. One certainly has to wonder if Boeing is going to exhibit the transparency and honesty one would expect as they continue to receive billions of taxpayer funds. Moreover NASA is asking taxpayers to foot a fast paced effort to return to the Moon. You'd think that someone at Boeing and NASA would get the bright idea that stonewalling and avoiding the media is not the way to garner public support.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on December 20, 2019 11:33 AM.

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