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CHASING WATERFALL

The engineering culture clash that defines America’s newest spacecraft

Boeing's Starliner is attached to an Atlas V rocket before a 2019 test flight.
Cory Huston/NASA/AP
Boeing’s Starliner is attached to an Atlas V rocket before a 2019 test flight.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Software didn’t just eat the world; it ate space, too.

Computing and the US space program are inextricably linked. The Apollo Flight Computer was famously the first built around silicon chips, as NASA engineers realized that the breadth of calculations required to hurl people to the moon demanded a high-speed electronic solution.

Today, computer decision-making is even more tightly integrated into space activities, and that means the software is even more important. Boeing learned that to its detriment last year after its Starliner spacecraft failed to reach the International Space Station during an uncrewed test mission. The problems were coding errors that should have been caught in testing.

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