In the end, the capsule had to be returned from the launch pad. When engineers were unable to repair it on site, it eventually had to be sent back to the Boeing plant for more thorough troubleshooting.
Boeing and NASA differ, according to the report and comments from NASA officials during recent press conferences.
Mark Naby, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for Starliner, noted in a press conference last week that their investigation indicated moisture had entered the valves and caused “corrosion” and “binding.” This led the company to devise a short-term solution, and to create a disinfection system, which includes a small bag, designed to keep out corrosive moisture. NASA and Boeing say they are comfortable with this solution.
“We’re in really good shape to go into this system,” Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, said last week.
But this may not be the end of it. Boeing revealed last week that it may eventually have to redesign the valves.
“There are a few more tests that we want to do, and based on these results, we will solidify the kind of changes we will be making in the future,” Naby said. “We will likely know more in the coming months.”
If Boeing goes ahead with a more comprehensive redesign of the valves, it’s not clear how long that will take or whether it could delay Boeing’s first astronaut mission, which, at this point, is years behind schedule. According to public documents, the cessation of work with Starliner has cost the company about half a billion dollars.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, once thought to be the underdog competitor in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, has already launched six NASA astronaut missions in addition to two tourism missions. The inaugural launch of his spacecraft, Crew Dragon, became the first to carry astronauts into orbit from US soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.