Historic Histrionics

On June 5th, 2024, Boeing’s new Starliner crew capsule blasted into space — fours years behind Space-X and at twice the cost.

In this heady age of space commercialism, “historic” space firsts have come so frequently, commentators seems to have become so glossy-eyed as to forget what the word means, and you can hardly find a blog post that doesn’t describe it as “historic.”


This is not an historic mission.

Landing human beings on the moon was historic. Each of the landmarks that got us there–and each of the very expensive missions that followed–was historic.

“Historic” was the decision (finally) to shift from paying for this sort of thing the way we pay for state-of-the-art military weapons systems and more toward the way NASA’s been advancing the aerospace industry since three decades before it became NASA, and the way it’s purchased airline flights for it’s people.

Space-X and Boeing both responded with similar reusable craft, similar mass and payload, up two seven crew, about 10 cubic meters of elbow room, a glass cockpit fronting advanced automation, and a heat shield inspired by and slightly more advanced than those used by Apollo and the Shuttle. But Space-X did it first. Very, very first. The program started in 2010, fourteen years ago, nearly twice as long as it took Boeing to design, built, and ready for flight the mighty Saturn V, or that matter, than the entire Apollo program. And sure, the Apollo program received massive funding, but it’s not like Boeing was being short changed–it received preferential treatment and literally twice the funding that Space-X did.

Look, I’m not here to hate on Boeing, the company that gave us the Saturn V, the B-52, and pretty much the airliner as we conceive of it today. It’s a company with proud and well-earned roots, and cudos to they team for finally getting the horse out of the barn, a bit spooked by the rabbits grazing on the track, long after the race is over.

I’m sorry, but this launch is “historic” in the way the Soviet N1 rocket was when it finally hauled itself momentarily free of Earthly gravity in February of 1969, two years after the first Saturn V flight, too late for anything but carrying the towels for the winning team.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Definitely, I’m being too harsh, but from a company that in recent years has made itself famous for putting profit over lives and canning the craftspeople and engineering experts who made it great, call me a bit jaundiced.

Boeing needs to get it’s act together. Big time, fire people, bring back the ghosts of the past, put good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity culturally in the drivers seat permanently vacated by the Yankee bean counters, changed, fixed, restored.

Starliner isn’t going to do it, sure not four years late and 100% over budget. Try again. Design something great. Come up with an orbital hotel people will want to visit and a launch vehicle that won’t bankrupt them getting there, or you know, just stop your airliners falling apart in flight and on camera. The competition’s stiff and the old days of being the best merely by being in the country not bombed into oblivion during World War II are gone. But you can do it. I mean, Tesla sells cars your can’t reach out and flip a lever to turn the air vent, and trucks that don’t sense when they’re chopping whatever’s in the way of the back gate like a veggie slicer. You aren’t the only company with challenges. There’s still time. Be great again.


And here’s a thought. While your drawing up your new playbook for “faster, better, cheaper,” consider this: In my research for Tales of the United States Space Force, available in major bookstores, it’s become clear to me that the spaceforce need the ability to launch small crews into space on a moment’s notice, on any of a host of rapid response defense or investigative missions. This will require a storable, solid propellant launch vehicle and a storage crew capsule, capable of sitting in a warehouse for months or years and then being prepped and launched withing hours. You, Boeing, have the expertise to make it happen. Go write a proposal—just put the requirements above the profit line, will ya?