May 26, 2020 - Science

The other commercial crew partner

Boeing's Starliner after a troubled test flight to orbit.
Boeing's Starliner. Photo: NASA

As SpaceX and NASA gear up for the company's historic crewed launch on Wednesday, Boeing — the space agency's other launch partner — is still waiting in the wings for its crewed debut.

Why it matters: While SpaceX is getting all the glory right now as the first company to make it to the pad to launch astronauts, Boeing has also been working toward the same goal since 2014.

  • "There's a little personal disappointment, but in the end ... it comes down to the fact that it's got to be done," Boeing's test pilot astronaut Chris Ferguson told Axios.

Background: Boeing's development of its Starliner capsule has encountered some recent issues.

  • The company's uncrewed test flight in December ended earlier than planned when the spacecraft couldn't make it to the space station due to issues that cropped up not long after launch.
  • Boeing — which is in the process of fixing the issues that lead to the troubled test — will now need to re-do that uncrewed flight later this year before moving on to its first mission with astronaut onboard.

Between the lines: Both companies have been working together and with NASA to get to their first crewed launches, but there has been fierce competition along the way.

  • Boeing — a longtime NASA contractor — was seen as having the distinct advantage over SpaceX, which, when it was picked for the program, was regarded as the young upstart built on a billionaire's dreams.

Yes, but: Ferguson sees the crewed SpaceX launch as something of an advantage for Boeing.

  • SpaceX going first will allow Boeing to track how the company's plans for the lead up to launch differ from their own.
  • "I'll watch the whole thing," Ferguson said. "I hope to soak it all in as not just a competitor/partner but as a curious astronaut."
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