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After years of delay, Boeing to try again with Starliner space capsule

Before a door-size panel blew out of a Boeing 737 Max, leaving a gaping hole in the side of an Alaska Airlines aircraft shortly after takeoff; before whistleblowers came forward to say they were threatened for bringing up safety issues at the company; and before the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the blowout incident, Boeing was struggling with another set of issues, on another high-profile vehicle.

Its Starliner spacecraft, designed to fly astronauts to orbit under a $4.2 billion contract from NASA, had suffered a series of problems that put its launch with astronauts years behind schedule. Its onboard computer had failed during its first test flight. A second test flight was scrubbed after valves in the vehicle's service module stuck and wouldn't operate. Then, after the craft finally flew a test mission successfully without anyone on board, Boeing discovered that tape used as insulation on wiring inside the capsule was flammable and would need to be removed. The parachute system also had problems, which forced the company to redesign and strengthen a link between the parachutes and the spacecraft.

Now, a decade after NASA awarded Boeing a contract to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, Boeing will finally attempt to fly its Starliner spacecraft with people onboard. If all goes to plan, at 10:34 p.m. on Monday, the company is set to fly a pair of veteran astronauts, Sunita Williams and Barry "Butch" Wilmore, on a mission that will be one of the most significant tests for Boeing's space division - and for NASA - in years.


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