NASA has an ongoing programme to send American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) using American assets. This is after a decade of using the Russian Soyuz space crafts for transporting astronauts to the ISS. However, the difference this time is that NASA would not be owning and operating the assets but hiring the services of American companies offering the transport service to the ISS a la Uber.
Two American companies, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing are in the fray to offer the service to NASA. SpaceX is using the Crew Dragon capsule, while Boeing is developing the Starliner Capsule. While SpaceX docked with the ISS successfully in March 2019, Boeing’s craft failed to attain the orbit required for a successful docking. The Starliner capsule was launched with 600 lbs of cargo to simulate the astronauts. Though the space craft was launched successfully from Cape Canaveral, it did not develop sufficient thrust to attain the required orbit.
Both Boeing and SpaceX use parachutes to slow down the descent of the capsules when returning to Earth. In an earlier test, one of the parachutes of the Boeing Starliner capsule had also failed to open. Boeing, however claimed that had the capsule carried astronauts, they would have landed safely even with one failed parachute.
This setback comes Boeing’s way after two recent fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft leading to grounding of the entire fleet globally.