May 26, 2024

Boeing called off its first astronaut launch on Monday night due to a valve problem on its rocket.

Two Nasa test pilots have just buckled up Boeing’s Starliner capsule when the countdown was stopped, just two hours before the planned takeoff. A United Launch Alliance engineer, Dillon Rice, said the problem involved an oxygen relief valve on the upper stage of the company’s Atlas rocket.

There was no immediate word on when the team would try again to launch the test pilots to the International Space Station for a week long stay. It was the latest delay for Boeing’s first crewed flight, which has been held up for years by capsule problems.

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“In a situation like this, if we see that any data signature is not something we’ve seen before, then we’re simply not willing to take any chances with what is our most precious payload,” Rice said.

Within minutes, Boeing’s new-style astrovan was back at the launch pad to take Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams out of their way at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Nasa hired Boeing and SpaceX a decade ago to ferry astronauts to and from the space station after the shuttle program ended, paying the private companies billions of dollars. SpaceX has been in the orbital taxi business since 2020.

Starliner’s first test flight, without a crew, ended up in the wrong orbit in 2019 and failed to reach the space station, forcing Boeing to repeat the demonstration before astronauts could fly. After more reviews last year, the company had to fix the capsule’s parachutes and rip out a kilometer of flammable tape.

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