NASA to fly new Boeing spacecraft to space

Starliner will remain at the International Space Station for a little over a week


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Published: Mon 6 May 2024, 11:45 AM

After years of delay, Boeing’s first crewed mission of its Starliner spacecraft is set to launch on Monday night, carrying two NASA astronauts to International Space Station (ISS).

The flight, a final test before Starliner takes up regular service for the space agency, is critical for Boeing, whose reputation has suffered of late due to safety issues with its passenger jets.

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For NASA, the stakes are also high. Having a second option for human space flight in addition to SpaceX's Dragon vehicles is "really important," said Dana Weigel, manager of the agency's ISS program.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are set to take off from Cape Canaveral at 10:34 pm Monday (0234 GMT Tuesday), if favourable weather predicted for the launch continues.

Starliner will be propelled into orbit by an Atlas V rocket made by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

Once in space, one of Wilmore and Williams's tasks will be to temporarily pilot the craft manually, in a test.

The astronauts, both Navy-trained space program veterans, have each been to the ISS twice, traveling once on a shuttle and then aboard a Russian Soyuz vessel.

"It's going to be like going back home," Williams said ahead of the launch.

As for the Boeing spacecraft, Wilmore said: "Everything is new."

Starliner is scheduled to arrive at the ISS at about 0500 GMT Wednesday, and remain there for a little over a week. Tests will be performed to check that it is working properly, and then Williams and Wilmore will reboard the capsule to return home.

A successful mission would help dispel the bitter taste left by the numerous setbacks in the Starliner program.

Once Starliner is fully operational, NASA hopes to alternate between SpaceX and Boeing vessels to ferry astronauts to the ISS.

Even though the ISS is due to be mothballed in 2030, both Starliner and Dragon could be used to taxi humans to future private space stations, which several companies are planning to build.


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