Boeing’s software missteps spark NASA review

Starliner landing
Boeing, NASA, and U.S. Army personnel put a protective cover over Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft shortly after its Dec. 22 landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

An interim assessment of what went wrong during December’s first uncrewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi has turned up so many breakdowns that NASA is ordering a comprehensive safety review of the company’s procedures.

NASA and Boeing provided a status report on the Starliner post-flight reviews today, after concerns were raised publicly this week during a meeting of the space agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

“We are 100% committed to transparency,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters during a teleconference.

This week’s revelations add to concerns about engineering shortcomings in other lines of Boeing’s business — including commercial airplanes, where a software issue and lapses in training procedures led to two catastrophic crashes and the worldwide grounding of 737 MAX jets; and military airplanes, where Boeing is having to retrofit Air Force KC-46 tankers to fix a design flaw.

Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, alluded to those shortcomings as he discussed the decision he made with Bridenstine’s support to order a wider safety review. “There were several factors that were in my mind when I asked the boss if we could do this,” he said. “And those were obviously press reports that we’ve seen from other parts of Boeing, as well as what seemed to be characterized as these software issues.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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