back to article This isn't Boeing very well... Faulty timer knackers Starliner cargo capsule on its way to International Space Station

Boeing’s first attempt to get its Starliner capsule to dock with the International Space Station has failed due to a software blunder. The unit was carrying cargo to the orbiting science lab though Boeing hopes to use it to send people into the obsidian void at some point. This particular Starliner mission took off on Friday …

  1. cornetman Silver badge

    Boeing are not having a lot of luck with software these days.

    1. macjules

      Must Correct Ambiguous Software ...

    2. DCFusor

      Both MCAS and this were depending on a single input...bad design with no redundancy and no effective override.

      What I hear is that the clock - which was a dumb idea vs something that actually sensed status anyway - simply wasn't set right while on the ground. Versus anything actually malfunctioning post-launch, other than maybe the ground guys failing to keep up with the status of things in time to prevent a problem - or even noticing at the time that fuel was being wasted.

      But oh boy, that really poor Boeing / NASA youtube stream cut audio and kept it muted for quite awhile when they noticed they had an issue.

      SpaceX has spoiled us with realtime video and a little telemetry post launch, and willingness to acknowledge failures and even make a Pythonesque clip of RUDs. Makes the old skool spin from the old military late and over budget contractors really stand out in sharp relief - more like the Vogons than Starfleet.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Borked mission timers, what is this, the 1950s?

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Let's synchronise watches

          Someone call the speaking clock

      2. Joe W Silver badge

        Well, if it had been some complex thingamajig everyone would point out that it was stupid not to use a simple thing, like a clock...

        1. Mongrel

          I think, as an armchair engineer, that having a clock to compare your complex thingamajig to wouldn't have offered as many chances for Murphy to lend a hand

      3. vogon00

        Caugh, splutter! I'll have you know that Vogons are *way* better at orbital ops than Boeing... Plus, big B doesn't have to worry about hitchhikers yet....

      4. Kernel

        "Both MCAS and this were depending on a single input."

        Two clocks would have been a good idea - or, at the very least, two imps pedalling in the single clock used.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Two clocks are worse than one clock

          How do you know which clock is 'wrong' if there are 2 that's why there need to be 3 systems preferably using 3 different approaches to measuring the time so that environmental issues will cause them top fail differently.

          1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

            Re: Two clocks are worse than one clock

            How then do you deal with time dilation? That's an environemntal issue that will affect them all the same!

      5. bpfh Silver badge

        Was going to ask...

        Did they cut costs and not install any backups?

        Also, what did NASA think about this before certifying this as flyable?

        1. ZenaB

          Re: Was going to ask...

          They haven't yet, this was the proving flight. They'll have to do another attempt now to actually prove it!

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      yes, but at least it didn't explode.

      1. Gordon 10

        If your capsule is going to explode - after the mission on the ground is probably one of the better places for it to go bang....

    4. yoganmahew


      So that's what you rely on when you don't design well.

    5. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      "Boeing are not having a lot of luck with software these days."

      Seems that's part of the problem: Relying on luck...

    6. JSIM

      Re: Unlucky Boeing

      Bad luck or a deadly mixture of power, greed and stupidity?

  2. RegGuy1 Silver badge

    Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

    What a nice guy!

    1. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

      Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

      ... said no one ever

      1. stuartnz

        Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

        I upvoted your pithy and perceptive post, and stand by that upvote, but also realised that as with any good fairytale control freak, his mirror probably hears it all the time. :)

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

        We have to remember that some commentards are a bit on the autistic side. So ironic comments aren't going to get the right response.

        (And some of us are Jews, and we apparently don't understand irony either).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

          And some of us are Jews, and we apparently don't understand irony either

          While others don't quite get the difference between sarcasm and irony...

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

            Well, you do seem to have an issue there.



            [ sahr-kaz-uhm ]

            harsh or bitter derision or irony.

            Venn diagrams not your strong point then? (That was sarcasm- just so you know).

            1. el kabong

              In this particular case those venn diagrams you mention do not overlap

              Unless I'm missing something Elon "pedo guy" Musk was being sarcastic not ironic.

              It would be ironic had Boeing mocked or been sarcastic towards Elon in the past for a similar blunder, I don't think Boeing did that.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: In this particular case those venn diagrams you mention do not overlap

                Oh dear.

                Here's the definition for "irony".

                noun, plural i·ro·nies.

                the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning:

                Here's another (Cambridge)

                a situation in which something which was intended to have a particular result has the opposite or a very different result:

                I've already quoted one definition of sarcastic.

                Here's another;

                Merrium Webster

                Definition of sarcasm

                1 : a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

                2a : a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

                b : the use or language of sarcasm

                1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

                  Re: In this particular case those venn diagrams you mention do not overlap

                  Oh dear!

                  As any fule no, irony, it's like "goldy" and "bronzy" only it's made out of iron.

          2. Justthefacts Silver badge

            Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

            In this case Pedo Musk was correctly being *ironic* in the British sense. Because:

            #1: SpaceX has launch failed quite often, *which is SpaceX’s way of doing engineering*

            #2: For Boeing, fixing and trying again is going to cost hundreds of millions, and take months if not a year. And specifically that cost is going to be paid by NASA, not Boeing, because they are contracted on cost-plus

            #3: Whereas SpaceX do this repeatedly, and learn from their experience. It would cost SpaceX less than a million, zero to their customer, and be ready to launch again in under a week. Remember, nothing exploded, just a bit of wasted fuel, it would basically be a go-round for them. The ISS folks would still have got their Christmas presents.

            It’s *ironic*, because watching Boeing fix the failure slowly and expensively highlights the contrast in the whole way they do engineering.

            It’s also ironic, because he assumes Bridenstine sees exactly this, every time Boeing burns ten billion dollars to do a hundred million dollar job, as they have been doing for sixty years.

            Whereas actually Bridenstine just sees “business as usual....Boeing will fix this, because it costs billions to do rocket science, and the USA has billions to spend, go-USA-go”.

            And it’s finally ironic, because Pedo Musk is unable to see that every time he opens his mouth on Twitter, thousands of comments will reference him as Pedo Musk, just because he’s a creepy older guy unable to relate to other humans.

            1. asphytxtc

              Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

              Few comments on this

              > #1: SpaceX has launch failed quite often

              In terms of launch failures, I believe I can think of three. CRS-1 where a Merlin exploded during flight (mission still a success however). CRS-7 where the second stage ruptured due to a helium bottle strut and AMOS-6 again due to a helium bottle failure. I wouldn't personally classify that as "often" although I will agree it's above say the Atlas V. I do agree SpaceX has had quite an extensive amount of LANDING failures during their development of the Falcon 9. I wouldn't class these as "launch failures" though, the Falcon 9 is one of the worlds more reliable launchers statistically at the moment.

              I do agree though, SpaceX have a fail fast, fail often approach to development. And I think that's great!

              > #2: For Boeing, fixing and trying again is going to cost hundreds of millions, and take months if not a year. And specifically that cost is going to be paid by NASA, not Boeing, because they are contracted on cost-plus

              Except this is not a cost plus contract, they were (both Boeing and SpaceX) fixed price contracts. I will agree however, Boeing has certainly tried to extract more money out of NASA as of recent, an extra $300m I believe.

              I can't find fault with #3

              I really do despise Boeings way of working though....

              1. Justthefacts Silver badge

                Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

                #2 - “Boeing bid a fixed price contract”....

                We are defining “fixed price” very differently here.

                In my view, Boeing has not yet met its side of the contract, because what they built didn’t actually work. If this were a fixed price, Boeing would get paid zero now, and still have to rebuild and relaunch under their own dime, in order to get paid.

                As in “if I buy a car, and the engine barfs all the petrol on the floor as soon as it turns on, I don’t pay for the car until the manufacturer fixes it, even if that requires a full engine rebuild”

                But that’s not the NASA reality. Boeing will get paid 90%? 100%? of the full price, as payment for failing to deliver the payload. If another launch is required by NASA to prove out the vehicle, Boeing will get paid *again*. That’s cost-plus by another name.

      3. JSIM

        Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

        I can't criticize his personality based solely on the media reports and SM posts that do not lavish praise on his tremendous ambition, drive and achievements.

        I can easily look past relatively unimportant things when it seems to me that Musk has rather quickly and successfully built a few now globally leading industries that are answering some of the most urgent needs of the future - extending our domain beyond the earth's atmosphere, and finding practical fossil-alternative ways to store and use electrical power. This path also hints at some real concern for mankind's future. Some would call that a noble quality. We could use a few dozen more like him.

        With continued work and good fortune, in a few decades, I wouldn't be surprised to find Elon (or someone like him) commandeering asteroids and building artificial planets.

    2. Trollslayer

      Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

      On this occasion he was to be fair.

    3. el kabong

      Elon "pedo guy" Musk really is a nice guy.

      If anyone still had doubts about his niceness here it is, doubt no more.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Elon "pedo guy" Musk really is a nice guy.

        I thought it was nice of him to go to court so we could call him Pedo Musk without fear of being taken to court!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

      Did he offer them some spliffs?

    5. Imhotep

      Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

      Everyone seems to be reading snark in to what seems to be simple commiseration. Perhaps the problem is not with Mr Musk in this particular case.

      1. DavCrav

        Re: Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

        "Perhaps the problem is not with Mr Musk in this particular case."

        Yeah, but even if he isn't being a twat today, boy cried and wolf spring to mind.

  3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


    Total Inability To Skilfully Undertake Positioning...


    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: TITSUP

      Total Inability To Set Up Position

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: TITSUP

      Total Inability To Supply Usual Presents

    3. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: TITSUP

      It was a Clock up.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: TITSUP

        That's a good pun, but the sub-headline writer on TFA has already got there before you.

    4. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: TITSUP

      Totally Inactive Timer Strands Undelivered Presents

  4. Anonymous Coward

    What is the deorbit going to be like?

    Considering that the Starliner will be heavily loaded with Christmas fruitcake and other, useful supplies? Were they planning to bring back garbage from the ISS anyway?

    1. sanmigueelbeer

      CONTEST: Starliner will be heavily loaded with ...

      Considering that the Starliner will be heavily loaded with ...

      Donald Trump.

      1. Fatman
        Thumb Up

        Re: CONTEST: Starliner will be heavily loaded with ...

        <quote>Donald Trump</quote>

        $DEITY knows that I wish I could UPVOTE you a thousand times!!!!!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is the deorbit going to be like?

      It is designed to bring back astronauts, so it isn't exactly heavily loaded beyond specs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: designed to bring back astronauts

        "It is designed to bring back astronauts, so it isn't exactly heavily loaded beyond specs."

        There was a *design*? Are we sure about that?

        There presumably was a conttract and something resembling a set of system-level requirements, but if there was a design, then it wasn't properly verified and signed off. But there's a lot of that about these days.

        These days it's not usually the "responsible" people that pick up the costs of failure (but they usually reward themselves when things go OK), and until that's fixed, there's no real motivation to improve matters (not just at Boeing).

  5. man_iii

    Santa Express

    Most definitely not using Boeing and their TOY delivery failure in future. MCAS and this "software" Timer based goto loops... Is this how engineers design rockets and spacey things?? I can understand the need for simplicity but a lack of feedback synchronization seems so strange...

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Santa Express

      Even my kid at school has worked out that time-based loops don't work in Scratch. Shame the teacher hasn't.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Santa Express

        Oh shit, best get myself of to Sizewell pronto!

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Santa Express

      Boeing and redundancy should probably never be used in the same sentence of late. Well.. maybe. MCAS as I recall was 2 systems and should have been 3. But 2 clocks could have been better than one with the result being if they didn't agree than a human needs to get involved.

      1. DavCrav

        Re: Santa Express

        "Boeing and redundancy should probably never be used in the same sentence of late."

        I don't know, "Boeing software engineers in mass redundancy rumours" would be a reasonable sentence.

  6. JassMan

    Can't help thinking...

    that they are going to find it hard to find volunteers for the first manned flight. They may say that everything would have gone perfectly but if all the systems are timer based rather than position based they could find the capsule leaving without them for the return journey. Or worse, that the main engines burn for re-entry while still attached because a bit of ice has held them in place.

    A system isn't fully tested until it works exactly as planned with all the bug fixes already in place. How many times has fixing one bug created another. And Boeing already have a history of that.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Can't help thinking...

      If it’s a Boeing I ain’t going

    2. Gordon 10

      Re: Can't help thinking...

      Its ok they'll iron out all the bugs in the next version, they just need to move the engines around a little.

      They're going to call it the Starliner Max.

    3. macjules

      Re: Can't help thinking...

      Yes. The trouble with Boeing is the phrase "Acceptable Losses". With an aircraft you can (unfortunately) get away with "It was the only one we have lost out of a production build of 1,000, so that is a 99.99% success rate", but with a spacecraft you just can not have, "it failed to start the landing thrusters, but you should consider that the mission was 99.99% successful because it almost made it back".

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. commonsense

          Re: Can't help thinking...

          Ah, trotting out the whole "you've never done this before so you're not in a position to comment or have an opinion" line. I suppose you have no opinions on politics, having never been an MP, or sport, having never played at an elite level.

          1. Vincent Ballard

            Re: Can't help thinking...

            I read GPP as "If you can't do basic arithmetic, I don't want to rely on any engineering product you've worked on".

      2. SVV

        Re: Can't help thinking...

        Losing 1 out of 1000 a 99.90% success rate. It's this sort of shoddy maths by software developers that is causing all these problems in the first place!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Santa is already orbit capable...

    ... but the ISS lacks a chimney.

    Maybe he can still bring to Boeing a sack of redundant sensors, a manual anout safe software design, and an atomic clock running an NTP server....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another bit of Boeing self-certifying?

  9. Trollslayer

    Someone skimped on testing

    Superficially at least, this is similar to the 737 MAX mess.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Someone skimped on testing

      That's what I was thinking too. They grandfathered in the Apollo certs and used software to make the new Starliner handle just like an old Apollo :-)

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Someone skimped on testing

        Apollo had had manual override built in. I guess they forget to put how to override the system in the manual again.

      2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: They grandfathered in the Apollo certs

        Was this the type of clock that was involved?

        No wonder there was a problem if they were using a pendulum.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Someone skimped on testing

      But this is just the way software is written these days, write the app and wait for the users to find the bugs.

      It's not a problem, the app will update itself in a couple of hours. OK, so there will be a few more bugs but we'll get another update out tomorrow.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Someone skimped on testing

        @Version 1.0

        The sound of experience - ever considered updating your handle... "Version 3.0"???

  10. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Not a total

    cockup, as if the thing had meatbags on board, they would have turned the switch maked "Auto/Man" to "Man" and flown the thing themselves

    As for the clock cockup, thats how every spacecraft actually flies, because you cannot rely on ground control to send the commands at the right time..

    Oh well I suspect some boeing employees are going to be handed copies of Kerbal space program and told until they can get to orbit in that , they are not going to be allowed anywhere near a real spaceship again.....

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Not a total

      "cockup, as if the thing had meatbags on board, they would have turned the switch maked "Auto/Man" to "Man" and flown the thing themselves"

      True. But it's supposed be a self-driving taxi service. And we all know that self-driving is hard.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: But it's supposed be a self-driving taxi service. And we all know that self-driving is hard.

        Well played.

    2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      Re: Not a total

      They don't plan to send women?

  11. Anonymous John

    Elon Musk was on hand to offer advice.

    "Those pedo guys screwed up again!"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Setting a clock? That's not rocket science.

    Oh, wait, apparently for Boeing it is!

  13. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    Someone's idea..

    Of a Christmas wind-up that went flat?

    Could have been a ground controller wishing the time away before Christmas?

    I'm going already... Mines the big red one with the white trim.

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge


    If I'd been a Boeing shareholder............

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Grown up.

    I'm not sure what's more strange.

    That Boing can act so childish on twitter when the shoe is on the other foot.

    Or that Elon can act so mature when his competitors make a mistake, especially considering his previous track record!

    1. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: Grown up.

      Maybe whilst that case is under appeal (and it has extremely good reason to be appealed TBH, the jury potentially made judgement under the wrong variant of whatever the local defamation standard was - calling someone a child rapist is defamitive per se - in and of itself) he's learnt his lesson and is keeping schtum?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The reference to irony above reminds me of the rather relevant Greek concept of hubris - pride and boastfulness that gets the attention of the gods who then engineer a fall.

    Calling something that only goes to orbit "Starliner" would seem to be a classical example. Naming something "Apollo" might actually keep at least one god onside. Soyuz, wouldn't attract a lot of attention.

    I think "Virgin Galactic" is taking a bit of a risk too.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Hubris

      With the number of planets and ships named after gods, we're running out of gods

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Hubris

      What about naming it "Titanic"?

      Well, it can't sink, can it.

      1. Trollslayer

        Re: Hubris


      2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

        Re: Hubris

        Call a spaceship "Titanic"? And have it undergo a total existence failure?

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Hubris

        Hang on - those comets are made out of ice aren't they?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hubris

          Fortunately the Starliner will be able to do the Kessel run around them in only 12 parsecs.

        2. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Hubris

          > those comets

          True, but the chances of it meeting one in low orbit is vanishingly small.

          It's not like the Starliner is going to space, AFAIK it's just an orbital elevator.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hubris

      "Calling something that only goes to orbit "Starliner" would seem to be a classical example."

      Yeah, you'd think they'd at least add "Capsule" to the end. It's a bit like the Wright brothers calling the Wright Flyer the AirLiner. Liner is already taken in transport terms as a mass passenger transport. Seven passengers does not a liner make. StarDinghy would more appropriate!

    4. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Hubris

      Calling something that only goes to orbit "Starliner" would seem to be a classical example.

      And it's nothing new for them. In 1938 they built the Stratoliner, which could neither reach the stratosphere nor carry a large number of passengers. Well, 38, which was quite a lot for that era, but still.

      And the first one built crashed during a test flight, with the wings failing during a manoeuver to recover from a spin. And in some way there's a pattern here.

  17. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Robustness & resilience

    "It needed that fuel to dock with the station when close by, so by burning it all so early, the mission was a failure."

    Clearly there's no latitude for error. So much for the promise of civilian space flight and planetary colonisation unless we're going to accept a high probability of fatalities. Life insurance premiums will rocket (no pun intended).

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Robustness & resilience

      It seems to have burned ~25% of its fuel.

      I don't know how that compares to the expected figure.

      It also seems that the spacecraft mission control didn't know/pay attention to the expected zones where no comms is possible, as they realized the issue and sent commands while the craft was in LoS.

      - How come *anything* was scheduled around LoS? It's not like there's a moon in the way.

      That really doesn't bode well for onboard astronauts. Yes, any vaguely competent pilot would quickly realise that the craft was burning attitude fuel way faster than in should, but without ground contact would they be able to save the mission, or only themselves?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Robustness & resilience

        There are only 2 or 3 satellites for the comms, and a small single "shadow" spot that they miss coverage for. Guess which spot the over correction burns fell in? ;)

  18. Sandy Scott

    Not actually in a stable orbit

    A little technical correction - the spacecraft isn't in a stable orbit - by design. The low point of the "orbit" is 71 km, which is low enough that atmosphere will slow you down and bring you back to Earth without needing another burn. Which sounds like a very sensible safety decision.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not actually in a stable orbit

      Just entering the atmosphere won't get you to the ground safely. While not as critical as the high velocity re-entries of the moon shots, there is still a fairly narrow safe entry window

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is how software used to be written at NASA

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: This is how software used to be written at NASA

      "Used to" are the key words here. Nowadays it's "move fast and break things".

      Which they did just fine.

  20. AJ MacLeod

    Maybe they could ask to borrow CuriousMarc's clock for the next mission?

  21. chivo243 Silver badge

    poor Boeing

    First they get toilet paper on their shoes from the 737max\MCAS debacle on their shoes, now that TP is on fire!

  22. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "This particular Starliner mission"

    This particular one of how many again? I seem to have lost count :-)

    1. Spherical Cow

      Re: "This particular Starliner mission"

      I can count them on the fingers of one finger.

  23. Anonymous South African Coward

    Maybe the guy who set the clock thought the clock was set for 12hr time when it used 24hr time.

    So instead of 15:00 the person responsilble entered 03:00? (Or whatever the time was).

    That sort of thing happened to myself. I have two cars. The one car used a 12 hr digital clock, and the other car used a 24 hr digital clock. I had removed the battery from the car with the 24hr clock (for doing maintenance) and then I put the battery back, I adjusted the time to 4:45 instead of 16:45. The next day SWAMBO asked me why the car is in a different timezone. Had a good laugh about that one :)

    1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      They just forgot to use International Units System seconds and kept using Imperial seconds...

      Damn' Colonial!

    2. Long John Brass

      All time in UTC

      The number of time I've seen borkage in various global distributed systems because some dumbfuck didn't set the time zone on the bloody server to UTC like they should.

      When you tell them; You can actually hear the gears in their heads shredding as they attempt to contemplate "A machine in Europe should NOT be set to US CST"

      Listen up people... All default Timezones on a global network should be set to UTC. If *YOU* want times in *YOUR* timezone set your local users TZ variable.

    3. Ben 56

      You nailed it

      Officially it's been stated the clock was 11 hours out, this discounts the UTC - EST difference theory but not yours.

      Perhaps it went like this:

      After take off, the clock would have counted 36 minutes, i.e. 00:36 if written as a timer, but this was actually assumed to be "12:36" when written as an AM/PM clock or date time type that held timezone (which was subsequently ignored or somebody stupidly used a toString parser) as the value was taken from an onboard RTC, an API to retrieve the value used this value type (as opposed to the engineer using the epoch milliseconds calculation).

      The onboard clock correction/precision/sync software was likely expecting 00:36 minutes but told when attempting to be sync'd with "hey my booster clock says it's been a little over 12 hours from launch, not 36 minutes", i.e. exact time correction cannot be applied as the difference is too great and the validity range was meant to be within 1 hour, or within the first hour of takeoff, thus any value 11 hours previous to the one given would have worked.

      The 1 hour validity range is (IIRC) exactly how Microsoft's Windows NTP updates used to work when correcting time from a manual/default dead CMOS battery value.

    4. Brangdon

      It's more likely it read the wrong clock field. Apparently the 11 hours roughly matches the difference between when the computer was switched on and when the rocket launched, so it may have taken the time elapsed from boot instead of time elapsed from launch. With two such similar elapsed-time fields it would be an easy mistake to make, and hard to spot during code review.

      (Which doesn't excuse not finding it during testing.)

  24. Cynicalmark


    Just can’t stop giggling at this. Boeing claimed to be the best. We all mostly predicted failure due to overthinking the problem - a NASA habit now an lo, they deliver in a damp squib like manner.

    It goes to show that Musk et al are on the right track by simply not reinventing the wheel. If it is on the shelf then use it, if not then build it to last.

    Unfortunately this means NASA may just become a vessel ground for multiple private businesses to rent rather than a force of innovation.

  25. Muscleguy

    Obviouisly Boeing didn't adequately train the dummy on board to deal with this situation. Par for the course then.

  26. FuzzyTheBear


    at least it touched down ok .. back on earth with a minute delay so .. all in all , not too bad. missed primary mission objective but the rest did work out ok .. live and learn.

  27. Paul Stimpson

    Craft's official designation is CST-100. Wonder if that stands for Can't Sustain Trajectory...

  28. Martin J Hooper

    Is it me does anyone else think Starliner is just a scaled up Apollo?

  29. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    It was dark, I didn't mean to orbit insertion burn into Uranus!

  30. Milton

    Relying on a single timer? Really??

    "... a malfunction in the Starliner’s Mission Event Timer clock caused the control software to think the main rocket firing was already underway. The engine wasn't firing, though ..."

    For literally anyone who's ever designed and written software that interacts with mechanical equipment: you always ensure that consequential actions are programmed very carefully, to guarantee they happen when they're supposed to, in the right circumstances, and in the right way. You always try to create well-guarded gates and conditions in your code, written in a way that considers what could be wrong or missing, factoring in the consequences of doing/not doing the right thing at the right moment. Even when it isn't a matter of life and death (it might be as trivial as, say, relays wearing excessively because a dumb instruction activates them too often) you try to think ahead about what could go wrong, or even go right but the wrong way. Every competent coder does this.

    Now I freely admit it's easy to be the Monday morning quarterback, to be smart with hindsight, but even so ... if there's an action which should occur only if the main engine is firing, then for pity's sake wouldn't your conditional logic include querying the realtime mainRocketIsFiring parameter?

    Why, I ask with tears in my eyes, wouldn't you??

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Relying on a single timer? Really??

      Back in the day I once wrote the code to control an electroplating plant, on a PLC. It was an interesting challenge compared to the day job and involved exactly the considerations you describe - including things like dualling the sensors that detect a frame in a plating tank, and not trying to put anything down there unless both of them are clear and you are not expecting to find anything there. Then there's making sure that a timer failure stops the current and sounds the alarm.

      Before I started I had seen the result of someone working on another plant accidentally code to take the frame straight out of the nickel tank and into the chrome tank (hint: expensive). I was suitably concerned not to be the source of multi-digit bills from chemical, waste and recycling companies.

      And that's with a human operator continually present.

      Perhaps Boeing needs to employ some process plant programmers, people who have in the past had irate project managers scream at them when things go wrong.

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