NASA chief of human spaceflight Doug Loverro said Friday that he decided to escalate the incident. Loverro said, “We could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission.”
In this, Loverro referred to two software errors that occurred during the two-day flight. The first problem occurred when Starliner captured the wrong “mission elapsed time” from its Atlas V launch vehicle—it was supposed to pick up this time during the terminal phase of the countdown, but instead it grabbed data 11 hours off of the correct time. This led to a delayed push to reach orbit. The second error, caught and fixed just a few hours before the vehicle returned to Earth through the atmosphere, was due to a software mapping error that would have caused thrusters on Starliner’s service module to fire in the wrong manner.
By declaring the Starliner mishap a “close call,” Loverro also formally opened a process during which the space agency’s Safety Office will investigate the organization elements that may have led to the incident—likely focusing on why NASA did not detect the errors in Starliner’s flight software.