CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—It was a picture-perfect launch, just before sunrise on a sandy coastline. The rocket, bright as a candle flame, climbed steadily, leaving a spindly trail of smoke that split the sky in half, with the sharp darkness of night on one side and the first pastel hues of daylight on the other. It carried a capsule, bound for the International Space Station, to the edge of space and let go.
The trouble started after that. The capsule, built for NASA by Boeing, was supposed to ignite its own engines to boost itself higher into orbit, where it would chase after the space station. But the engines didn’t start when they should have. Engineers watched, unable to help from below, as the spacecraft became disoriented.
Before the launch, NASA was optimistic. SpaceX had carried out a similar mission earlier in the year, and that effort was a success from start to finish. But Boeing’s attempt to reach the ISS has failed.
There were no people on board the spaceship, just a mannequin and thousands of pounds of supplies for the crew on the ISS. But this capsule was specifically designed to carry people, and this mission was supposed to test how the craft handled the rigors of spaceflight. If the mission had been successful, the next flight would have carried three astronauts. The astronauts for that inaugural flight already have their assignments and have spent months in training, and they watched this morning’s launch from control centers here. As the rocket took off, “we kind of imagined ourselves as if we were on board,” Michael Fincke, a future Starliner crew member, told reporters at a press conference after the launch.