Boeing Starliner launches to begin long-awaited mission with NASA crew

Terry Renna/AP

Boeing’s Starliner capsule, sitting atop an Atlas V rocket, rolls onto the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on May 4.

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Two NASA astronauts have reached the final hours of a long-awaited launch attempt aboard Boeing’s Starliner capsule, marking the brand-new spacecraft’s first crewed mission.

Starliner – It was designed as an aerospace giant SpaceX’s resourceful Crew Dragon capsule — is scheduled to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10:34 p.m. Monday for its inaugural crewed test flight.

NASA does Webcast The event begins at 6:30 PM ET Monday on its channels. CNN will carry live updates of the flight online shortly before liftoff.

Weather or technical issues can always force a rocket launch to scrub all the way until the countdown clock hits zero, but weather officials say the forecast for this evening is as good as it gets. 5% chance Clouds, wind or storms could interfere with departures tonight.

Dubbed the Crew Flight Test, the mission could be the final major milestone before NASA deems Boeing’s spacecraft ready for routine operations as part of the federal agency’s Commercial Crew program. Starliner will join SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in NASA’s push to collaborate with private industry partners, expanding America’s options for carrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

Mission crew members are veteran astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore, who have each been to space on two previous missions aboard a NASA space shuttle and a Russian Soyuz mission.

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Terry Renna/AP

NASA astronauts Suni Williams (left) and Butch Wilmore pose after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on April 25 ahead of a Boeing Starliner crew flight test.

“They’re checking multiple systems: life support, manual control,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a news conference Friday. “That’s why we put two test pilots on board — certainly Butch and Suni’s resumes are extensive.”

It will mark only the sixth space shuttle mission in US history, Nelson noted: “It started with Mercury, then Gemini, then Apollo, then the Space Shuttle, then (SpaceX) Dragon – now Starliner.”

Williams is also the first woman to join such a mission.

If all goes according to plan, the crew will board the Starliner capsule and lift off on an Atlas V rocket Monday night. After reaching orbit, the spacecraft carrying the astronauts will separate from the rocket and begin firing its own engines. Starliner will then gradually make its way to the space station over 24 hours, where the vehicle is expected to dock at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday.

Williams and Willmore will spend a week in the orbiting lab Seven astronauts and astronauts Already on board, while the Starliner is parked outside.

The two will then return home in the same Starliner capsule, which is expected to land by parachute at one of several designated locations in the American Southwest.

The soft test travels a lot on the plane. NASA has been waiting half a decade to launch a crew of Starliner flights, and Starliner’s development has been plagued by years of delays, setbacks and mistakes. More broadly, Boeing has been plagued by scandals in its aircraft division for years, tarnishing its traditional aerospace company brand.

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Mark Nappi, Boeing’s vice president and Starliner project manager, spoke about the development process during Friday’s briefing. “Really my source of hope is going through that process.”

If the crewed test flight is successful, Boeing could be lined up to begin routine missions to the space station on behalf of NASA.

After the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, in 2014, the US space agency selected Boeing to develop the Starliner alongside SpaceX and its Crew Dragon capsule.

SpaceX finally beat Boeing to the launch pad in May 2020 with a crewed flight test of the Crew Dragon capsule. NASA’s personnel transportation needs since then.

“We’re cheering for SpaceX. It’s very important to our country and very important to NASA to have that access. Nubby said during a March news conference. “We look forward to providing more (astronaut transportation services).”

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