In the five years since Boeing introduced its concept for a next-generation space capsule and called it CST-100 (Commercial Space Transportation-100, with the numeral standing for 100 kilometers, the notional “boundary” of space), the company has been under some pressure to think up a more inspiring name, or at least one that doesn’t sound like a tax form.
And so today, while unveiling its newly refurbished hangar at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (which only a few years ago was processing NASA space shuttles), Boeing disclosed the new name for its spaceship: Starliner.
It’s a good choice, all things considered. In this age of tireless “branding,” it has echoes of the company’s flagship passenger jet, the Dreamliner. The connection is more than superficial. Boeing has tried to borrow a few methods and technologies from its airline business to help keep the Starliner’s costs down, as NASA turns to commercial vendors to provide taxi service to the space station. The LED lighting of the new spacecraft, for example, is the same technology used in the Dreamliner.
Along with the new name and the new processing facility, there are other signs of progress on what NASA calls its “commercial crew” program. The agency recently picked four astronauts to make the first test flights of the Starliner and another vehicle being built by SpaceX, called the Dragon Version 2. The companies presumably will pick their own test pilots to accompany the NASA astronauts.
As to when they’ll first reach the space station, NASA is still squabbling with Congress about money, and may have to delay the first launch. Meanwhile, the engineers keep working toward a 2017 debut, while hoping for the best. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”