The Boeing CST-100 Starliner being lifted at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

It has been nearly two and a half years since Boeing's first failed test of its Starliners. Here is a recap of the past 28 tumultuous months, and how Boeing might finally make good on providing a viable commercial crew vehicle for NASA.

The two previous tests did not go well. The capsule made it to the space station in the first test but malfunctioned. Starliner was stuck on the ground in the second. The capsule is being developed by Boeing under a $4.3 billion NASA contract, but it has fallen behind schedule. The pressure is now serious.

The Starliner capsule is currently sitting atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which is scheduled to launch at 6:54 p.m. On Thursday, May 19. The uncrewed CST-100 will dock at the International Space Station on Friday, May 20 at 7:10 p.m. The time is at 10:30. 600 pounds of cargo will be returned to Earth from the Starliner OFT-2.

Conceptual view of Starliner CST-100 in space.

This itinerary is not a sure thing. Hardware glitch, software anomalies, shoddy processes and organizational deficiencies are just a few of the problems that have plagued this program. Over the past several years, Boeing's weaknesses as a NASA partner have been on full display and amplified by the accomplishments at SpaceX, NASA's other commercial crew partner. Two years have passed since the Crew Dragon was used to bring astronauts home from the International Space Station.

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The launch of Boeing's OFT-1 mission was an early sign that things weren't quite right. The capsule was able to reach space, but a software glitch prevented it from reaching its destination. The rocket and Starliner went out of sync because of a faulty Mission Elapsed Timer. The unfortunate fuel burn was caused by Starliner miscalculated its location in space. A coding error could have led to an unsafe service module separation sequence. During the OFT-1 test, space-to-ground communications were lost.

An independent NASA-Boeing review team issued 80 recommendations to Boeing, which included improved testing and modeling, new development requirements, software updates, organizational changes, and operations tweaks. The Starliner program was delayed by 1.5 years because of the efforts to address the recommendations.

By August 3, 2021, Boeing was ready to perform the second test of Starliner, the OFT-2 mission, but the Atlas V rocket never left the launch pad due to unforeseen valve position indications. The team aborted the launch and returned the capsule to the Vertical Integration Facility after 13 oxidizer valves got stuck in the closed position.

Boeing engineers attending to Starliner after the failed attempt to launch in August 2021.

The valves got stuck because of the dry side of the oxidation valves getting onto the dry side. The humid Florida air is to blame for this.

The manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program said at a teleconference on May 3 that the issue has been closed out and that OFT-2 is ready to proceed.

The Boeing vice president and deputy general manager told reporters that the spacecraft looks great and is performing great. The team chose not to redesign the valves, but added components to keep the water out. She said that the team is hoping to avoid a repeat. The ground team is cycling the valves to make sure they work.

When asked if NASA would stop working with Boeing if another failed test, the manager of the space agency said there was no intention to stop now.

The OFT-2 mission will set the stage for OFT 3, a crewed Starliner mission to the International Space Station.

The issue with the valves is not over. The possibility of redesigning the valves is currently being considered by Boeing. Aerojet Rocketdyne and its lawyers are claiming that a cleaning chemical used by Boeing caused the problem, a claim that Boeing denies. Boeing's acknowledgement of a potential valve redesign and its blame-game with Aerojet Rocketdyne are bad looks just before the OFT-2 launch.

A crewed Starliner test launch later this year would be grand, but we should not get ahead of ourselves. One of the most anticipated and pressure-packed launches of the year will take place on May 19 at Space Launch Complex-41.