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After Mishap with Boeing Spacecraft, NASA Faces a Dilemma

An anonymous reader quotes the Washington Post:

As it probes why Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft suffered a serious setback during a flight test last month that forced the cancellation of its planned docking with the International Space Station, NASA faces a high-stakes dilemma: Should the space agency require the company to repeat the uncrewed test flight, or allow the next flight to proceed, as originally planned, with astronauts on board?

The answer could have significant ramifications for the agency, and put astronauts’ lives on the line, at a time when NASA is struggling to restore human spaceflight from the United States since the Space Shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

Forcing Boeing to redo the test flight without anyone on board would be costly, possibly requiring the embattled company, already struggling from the consequences of two deadly crashes of its 737 Max airplane, to spend tens of millions of dollars to demonstrate that its new spacecraft is capable of meeting the space station in orbit. But if NASA moves ahead with the crewed flight, and something goes wrong that puts the astronauts in danger, the agency would come under withering criticism that could plague it for years to come…

For now, NASA is moving cautiously. It has formed an independent team with Boeing to examine what went wrong with the Starliner during last month’s test flight. NASA also is reviewing data to help it determine if the capsule achieved enough objectives during its truncated flight to assure NASA that its astronauts will be safe….

If NASA does force Boeing to perform another test flight, it’s not clear who would have to pay the tens of millions of dollars such a mission would cost.

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