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Boeing’s Starliner successfully docks with ISS

Despite several minor helium leaks and the failure of 6 of its 28 small attitude thrusters (four of which were reactivated during an improvised hot fire test during rendezvous operations), Boeing’s Starliner has successfully docked with ISS today.

Though now safely arrived at ISS, the hatch has not yet opened. The spacecraft carries NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, and will now spend about a week at the space station checking out its systems before undocking and returning to Earth.

All told, this docking is a success, though the various thruster issues are a concern that must be addressed by Boeing, especially because there were thruster issues as well during the previous unmanned demo flight.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • David Ross

    If NASA were responsible, they would rule that the Starliner is a test capsule and that it should not store anything valuable (like carbon based life forms) on its way back. They should rent the Dragon to get this crew hope.

  • Richard M

    Jeff Foust teases out an awkward fact in the post-docking press conference: “Several of the thrusters that went offline today also failed on OFT-2 2 yrs ago.”


  • So, now machinery doesn’t fail, it goes ‘off-line’. Hmmm.

    ‘Sorry we couldn’t make that delivery date. The skillset to accomplish that was off-line.’


  • Dick Eagleson

    Richard M,

    Eeegad indeed. It’s a good thing we have Crew Dragon as a backup for Starliner.

    I suspect most of the time between Starliner’s projected annual runs to ISS will find it up on the grease rack, access panels off and Boeing technicians furiously twisting wrenches and replacing parts.

  • Richard M

    Hello Dick,

    It looks increasingly like this is a software issue – whereas the helium leaks are most certainly hardware issues.

    That should be easier to fix; but software has been a constant struggle for the Starliner program for years now, and it is disappointing that (despite some good hires) they still seem to be struggling with this kind of thing. I wonder how much of this is caused by the radioactive relationship the Starliner division has with Aeroject Rocketdyne?

    NASA and Boeing are going to have a full plate in the post-mission examination in trying to complete certification for this thing in time for an operational mission next year. There’s a lot of things still to fix.

  • Edward

    Eric Berger had an interesting essay last month:

    There was no single flight software team at Boeing. The responsibilities were spread out. A team at Kennedy Space Center in Florida handled the ground systems software, which kept Starliner healthy during ground tests and the countdown until the final minutes before liftoff. Separately, a team at Boeing’s facilities in Houston near Johnson Space Center managed the flight software for when the vehicle took off.

    It seems that some hardware trouble may be associated with Boeing’s relationship with Rocketdyne, but the software problems may be associated with Boeing’s relationship with itself.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Eric Berger had an interesting essay published yesterday about the ongoing crewed demo mission docked at the ISS:

    The best quotes:

    Now, with four separate leaks, Nappi (VP & Mgr of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program) acknowledged that Boeing may not fully understand the root cause of the problem. “They’re very similar in the way that they’re behaving, so there’s a good reason to believe that they may be similar,” he said Thursday. The company has already begun investigating the issue with similar hardware on the ground.

    [T]his is now the second consecutive mission in which a subset of these small thrusters failed to operate during a Starliner flight. During the vehicle’s previous mission, Orbital Flight Test-2 in May 2022, some of these same thrusters failed to operate when called upon during the approach to the station. Although two small software fixes were applied after that flight, they appear not to have addressed the issue.

    “I think we’re missing something fundamental that’s going on inside the thrusters,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager on Thursday.

    Things sound like they need much more sorting out before Starliner can fly crews with 6 months parked at the ISS.

  • pzatchok

    After watching this I can see exactly why they are having trouble with the craft.
    It looks like something out of 1965 with all those buttons switches and controllers

    I am glad Dragon exists..

  • Richard M

    After watching this I can see exactly why they are having trouble with the craft.
    It looks like something out of 1965 with all those buttons switches and controllers

    I was thinking more like 1995. (Come on, give ’em some credit.) It looks like, well, a scaled down Dreamliner cockpit.

    But clearly it’s a more conservative approach to controls. That is not unreasonable per se, but I was amazed to learn that the forward docking camera feeds can only be accessed through the Windows tablets (!), because the avionics screens can’t handle it. I would love to know the design history that produced that compromise.

    Boeing also clearly did not give a d**n about aesthetics, which may not be surprising if your mindset is that your only intended customer is the U.S. government. Again, that’s not fatal per se, but it is nonetheless clear that SpaceX put some serious thought into ergonomic layout of the Dragon in a way that Boeing apparently did not. It’s simply much easier to get into and out of both your set and the capsule, in either microgravity or 1G, if you are in a Dragon.

    OTOH, Starliner can fit a 5th passenger in if they really want to. I suppose that might end up counting for something.

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