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Are Boeing and SpaceX having parachute issues with their manned capsules?

There appears to be a significant conflict between what NASA has been saying about the parachute development tests for both SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s Starliner capsule and what the companies have reported.

The head of NASA’s manned program, Bill Gerstenmaier, has said that both programs have had “anomalies” during their tests. Both companies have said otherwise, with both companies claiming that all their parachutes have been successful. The article looks into this, and what it finds tends to support the companies over Gerstenmaier. There have been issues, but not as terrible as implied by Gerstenmaier.

So what is going on? I suspect that Gerstenmaier is overstating these issues as part NASA’s game to slow-walk the private capsules in order to make SLS not look so bad. He would of course deny this, but that denial won’t change my suspicions, in the slightest. I’ve seen NASA’s bureaucracy play too many games in connection with getting these capsules approved for flight to be generous to Gertenmaier or NASA. I don’t trust them. I’ve seen them make dishonest accusations against SpaceX and Boeing too many times already.

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  • Kirk

    Bob> “… both companies claiming that all their parachutes have been successful.”

    I believe you are misreading the article where it says, “SpaceX, in a later statement, said it had performed five such “parachute-out” tests previously, all successfully.”

    “Previously” here, means previous to the failed test. It is more clearly worded in Jeff Foust’s 9 May article — — “SpaceX said that, prior to last month’s test, it had performed five similar “parachute-out” tests where one of the four parachutes deliberately did not open. All of those were completed successfully.” No one is questioning the revelation that SpaceX’s sixth parachute-out test failed.

    Did you watch Associate Administrator Gerstenmaier’s testimony? He certainly didn’t appear to be throwing SpaceX under the bus. The incident only came up because Rep. Brooks specifically asked about it, with Gerstenmaier seeming to give as little information as possible and downplaying the significance of the failure.

  • Jason Hillyer

    Gerstenmaier always seemed fairly pro-SpaceX, to me at least.

  • Col Beausabre

    “with Gerstenmaier seeming to give as little information as possible”

    Excuse me, but who does her think he works for? Congress are the Peoples’ Representatives – he should be completely open, not playing games.

  • Edward

    Neither article seems to have a quote from SpaceX as to whether they think the test was a failure. That word is only coming from NASA.

    Col Beausabre,
    There may be little additional information to give. The article and Kirk’s linked article both suggest that the problem may be with the test setup. When there is suspicion along those lines then there is a reasonable probability that this is where the problem lies. Until they know for sure, however, giving out additional information may end up misleading people. If they prematurely say that it was the test setup but it wasn’t, then it looks like they were intentionally misleading Congress so they didn’t think things were so bad. At this stage of the investigation, it may be prudent to say as little as possible in order to keep from being bitten in the butt with your own words.

  • Kirk


    Correct but the SpaceX statement (made after Gerstenmaier testimony) — that the five parachute-out tests prior to the April test were successful — could be taken as tacit admission that the sixth wasn’t successful, and was certainly not a claim that it was successful which is how Bob appears to have interpreted the ambiguous “previously” in Foust’s 12 May article.

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