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Boeing’s Starliner finally blasts off to the ISS

It's time to ascend.

Boeing’s Starliner Successfully Launches with Astronauts Aboard

Boeing’s much-anticipated space capsule, Starliner, has finally launched with two astronauts on board, overcoming a series of delays and technical issues.

Historic Crewed Test Flight

The first crewed test flight of Starliner faced multiple postponements due to faults with either the capsule or the rocket that launched it from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Commander Butch Wilmore and astronaut Suni Williams are now en route to the International Space Station (ISS). They are scheduled to dock on Thursday and will spend a week aboard the ISS before returning to Earth. Notably, Ms. Williams is the first female test pilot of an orbital spacecraft.

NASA’s Enthusiasm

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed his excitement: “Two bold NASA astronauts are well on their way on this historic first test flight of a brand-new spacecraft. Boeing’s Starliner marks a new chapter of American exploration. Human spaceflight is a daring task – but that’s why it’s worth doing. It’s an exciting time for NASA, our commercial partners, and the future of exploration. Go Starliner, Go Butch and Suni!”

Overcoming Previous Setbacks

This successful launch follows three aborted attempts earlier this year, with the most recent scrub occurring just three minutes and 50 seconds before liftoff on Saturday. However, Wednesday’s launch was flawless, with Starliner ascending smoothly on a United Launch Alliance rocket.

Safety Enhancements

The capsule was launched on a shallow ascent trajectory, offering the crew a better chance of aborting the flight if necessary all the way to orbit. Additional safety modifications were made to ensure the capsule could quickly separate from the rocket in an emergency.

A Crucial Alternative

Starliner is set to become a critical alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, currently the only shuttle used by US, European, Canadian, and Japanese astronauts for travel to and from the ISS. If NASA certifies Starliner after this test flight, Boeing plans to begin operational flights in spring 2025.

Background and Development

NASA commissioned both SpaceX and Boeing to develop commercial crew capsules in 2014. While SpaceX started shuttling astronauts in 2020, Boeing faced numerous challenges. The first uncrewed mission in 2019 experienced a fault that caused the capsule to run out of fuel, aborting its docking with the ISS. A subsequent flight in 2022, despite thruster problems, was deemed successful by NASA, paving the way for this human test flight.

Looking Ahead

As the Starliner moves forward, it represents a significant milestone in commercial space travel and the expansion of human presence in space. The success of this mission could herald a new era of collaboration and innovation in space exploration.