Ars Technica has some good, clear reporting curtesy of Eric Berger on the recent Boeing Starliner problems during an orbital test flight in December. If you don’t recall, it was a pretty disastrous test flight that could have resulted in the complete loss of the unmanned vehicle.
NASA and Boeing are conducting a massive review of both the Starliner’s code and Boeing’s culture:
Starliner’s flight software has about one million lines of code, and now the company and NASA will have to go back through and review all of that code to check for errors and verify it. NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, indicated this may be a lengthy process, as he’s not sure whether there were two coding errors in Boeing’s software or many hundreds.
The agency is also conducting a broad review of Boeing’s culture, Loverro said, to understand what processes led to these software errors being created and going unchecked throughout pre-flight reviews. Notably, he said, NASA is doing this not only because of software problems related to Starliner, but also because of “press reports we’ve seen from other parts of Boeing,” presumably a reference to the company’s myriad problems with the 737 MAX aircraft.
I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Boeing these days. In my eyes, their shitty code and lack of response to an issue they knew about a year before the first crash that led to the deaths of a lot of people — 346 people, to be exact — leaves me little room to feel bad for their continued failures. The reverse takeover with McDonnell Douglas has lead to a culture of cost-cutting and, ultimately, the deaths of hundreds. The 737 name will forever be associated with an engineering disaster. And sure, they pseudo-fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg, but he’s walking away with potentially 60-plus million dollars in benefits, severance, stock, and pension. Only in American can you be responsible for the deaths of 346 people and walk away from your job a multi-millionaire.
As for the team involved in the Starliner, they don’t appear to be performaning any better, leaving me to wonder just how deeply flawed that culture really is. If I was NASA, I’d cut my loses and cut Boeing loose. Does NASA really want to risk the lives of their astronauts with a company more concerned about their shareholder’s bottom lines than human lives?