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GeekWire

737 MAX cleared for flight — after software upgrades

Two years after the catastrophic crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Indonesia touched off an aviation crisis, the Federal Aviation Administration today laid out the path for hundreds of 737s to return to flight.

But that can’t happen immediately: It’ll take months for the FAA to check the implementation of changes in pilot training procedures, and verify all the fixes that will be made. All 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide in the aftermath of a second crash that occurred in Ethiopia in March 2019.

“This is not the end of this safety journey,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told CNBC. “There’s a lot of work that the airlines and the FAA and Boeing will have to do in the coming weeks and months.”

Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a news release that today’s FAA directive was an “important milestone” but agreed that there’s a lot of work to be done. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide,” Deal said.

The key fixes involve software rather than hardware — and that part of the job is more like installing a Windows update than installing an actuator.

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Cosmic Space

Boeing astronaut chooses family over Starliner flight

Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who commanded NASA’s final space shuttle mission nine years ago, says he’s passing up his chance to be on the first crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner space taxi next year.

Ferguson, who is director of mission integration and operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, tweeted that he’s taking on a “new mission” that prioritizes “my most important crew — my family.”

The 56-year-old former astronaut told Space News that he didn’t make his decision lightly: “It surrounds what has really amounted to a year that is replete with family obligations that I just do not want to risk missing,” he said. Among those obligations, according to The Associated Press, is his daughter’s wedding.

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, who has served as a backup spaceflier during Starliner training, will take Ferguson’s place.

“Butch will be able to step in seamlessly, and his previous experience on both space shuttle and space station missions make him a valuable addition to this flight,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a news release.

The other astronauts due to make the trip to the International Space Station next year are NASA’s Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann. Fincke joined the crew last year when NASA astronaut Eric Boe had to bow out due to unspecified medical reasons.

Ferguson had been looking forward to his Starliner trip for years. He joined Boeing soon after his final shuttle flight in 2011 and played a high-profile role in the Starliner effort — going so far as to help CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert try on Boeing’s spacesuit in 2017.

If the development timeline for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner had been glitch-free, Ferguson and his crewmates might well have been in space by now. But last December, an uncrewed demonstration flight to the space station went awry due to software problems. As a result, NASA and Boeing had to pass up the station docking and end the flight early.

Meanwhile, SpaceX was able to proceed with the first crewed flight of its Crew Dragon capsule in May, beating Boeing to the punch.

After a months-long investigation, NASA and Boeing decided that another uncrewed test mission would have to be flown at Boeing’s expense. That mission is expected to take place late this year or early next year. If all goes well, a crewed flight will follow in mid-2021.

Ferguson said he has “full confidence in the Starliner vehicle, the men and women building and testing it, and the NASA astronauts who will ultimately fly it.” And he hinted that he wouldn’t mind getting another chance to go into space once he takes care of his family obligations.

“I’ve been asked what this means long-term: Does it mean that I’m leaving or does it mean that I’m staying and I just can’t do this,” he told Space News. “I just cannot launch next year. You can read into that as you see fit.”

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GeekWire

FAA and Boeing complete 737 MAX flight tests

The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing today completed three days’ worth of certification flight tests on the Boeing 737 MAX, but it’ll take weeks longer for the FAA to review the fixes that Boeing made and decide whether to end the yearlong grounding of the planes.

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GeekWire

FAA and Boeing begin flight tests for 737 MAX

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration took a major step toward returning the troubled 737 MAX to full operation today with the first of a series of flights aimed at recertifying the jet in the wake of two catastrophic crashes.

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GeekWire

Boeing reworks team for space station and Starliner

Mulholland and Bridenstine
Boeing’s John Mulholland gives a briefing to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a visit to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2018. Hardware for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi can be seen in the background. (NASA Photo / Kim Shiflett)

As a new commercial-centric era dawns for the International Space Station, Boeing is realigning its top managers for the space station program — and for the program that’s working to send Starliner capsules there and back.

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GeekWire

Boeing teams up with Varjo on Starliner VR

Boeing's Connie Miller with VR headset
Boeing software engineer Connie Miller tries out the Varjo virtual-reality system to control a computer-generated Starliner space taxi. (Varjo / Boeing Photo)

Boeing isn’t due to start flying NASA crews to the International Space Station until next year, but in the meantime, astronauts can steer a computer-generated Starliner space taxi with the aid of Varjo’s virtual-reality headsets.

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GeekWire

Boeing CEO will ‘turn up the volume’ to fight racism

David Calhoun
Boeing CEO David Calhoun gives a talk at Virginia Tech, his alma mater, in 2018. (Virginia Tech Photo)

In a letter sent to employees today, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun pledged to “turn up the volume on dialogue” about diversity and inclusion — and said the company would boost its support for marginalized communities.

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GeekWire

Boeing resumes 737 MAX jet production

737 MAX assembly
The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says it has resumed 737 MAX production at its factory in Renton, Wash., with more than a dozen initiatives implemented to enhance product quality and workplace safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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GeekWire

Boeing sends layoff notices to 6,770 workers

Boeing logo
The Boeing Co. has its corporate headquarters in Chicago. (Boeing Photo)

As part of its plan for a 10% workforce reduction, Boeing says that it’s moved from voluntary layoffs to involuntary layoffs and is sending out the first 6,770 notices this week. “I wish there were some other way,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told employees in an email.

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GeekWire

X-37 space plane begins shadowy orbital mission

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a Boeing-built X-37B space plane today on a semi-secret orbital mission under the management of the recently created Space Force.

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