Enlarge / Technicians at the Boeing Space Environment Test Facility in El Segundo, California,
After several weeks of rumors NASA has officially announced that the first test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft will slip from April to August. However, it is worth noting that NASA still characterizes it as a "work date" rather than a confirmed start date.
As part of the announcement, the agency also said that the first crew flight of Starliner to the International Space Station, which could theoretically come before the end of 201
9, but now seems doubtful – will be of longer duration. "NASA's mission expansion mission proved to be technically accomplished without compromising on the crew," said Phil McAlister, director of the commercial space section at NASA's headquarters, in a press release. The agency did not say how many months the crew would stay at the station.
Expanding Starliner's first flight gives NASA more options as it seeks to keep its crew members at the space station. In February, the space agency also began investigating the possibility of purchasing additional Soyuz rides for the space station through September 2020 as it awaits Starliner and SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to launch operational services. Sources have stated that this can also be a way of raising more money for Boeing over its fixed price contract value in the commercial crew program that NASA will actually "buy" these seats as part of an operational mission.
Boeing has so far had little to say about technical problems that have cro pped up with Starliner development. After having suffered a significant setback during the preparations for an interruption test in early June 2018, the company managed to keep these problems from going public for about a month. Almost a year later, Boeing still has not performed this test run of Starliner's launch abortion system, which was originally scheduled for mid-2018. While the interruption test is mentioned in NASA's press release, no new date has been given.
Officially, the company says that the orbital flight test delay from April to August has come because more time is needed to allow its engineers to test and validate Starliner's performance.
"We remain diligent with a safety first culture," said John Mulholland, vice president and presenter of the Boeings Commercial Crew Program. "While we have already made significant progress this year, this shift gives us the time to continue building a safe spacecraft capable of transporting crews over and over again after a successful test without supplying unnecessary time pressures."  The official delay gives more evidence that SpaceX seems to have a pretty strong lead in efforts to become the first company to launch people in private circles. After his great successful test flight a month ago, SpaceX has renovated the occupied Dragon for an abortion flight test later in the spring. A flight crew of the Dragon seems possible before the end of this year, provided that ongoing testing and reviews continue as expected.