June 22, 2024

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NPR: Boeing Starliner Finally Launched With Two NASA Astronauts

NPR: Boeing Starliner Finally Launched With Two NASA Astronauts

Boeing’s Starliner capsule lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday. It is the first time the capsule, powered by an Atlas V rocket made by United Launch Alliance, has carried people. Two NASA astronauts board for a day-long trip to the International Space Station. This test flight is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo/AFP via Getty Images/AFP

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Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo/AFP via Getty Images/AFP

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The third time’s the charm.

Boeing’s long-awaited Starliner space capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with two NASA astronauts on board and reached orbit about twelve minutes later. The crew will spend the next 25 hours racing to catch up with the International Space Station.

This mission marks the first time a commercial capsule has carried humans, and is scheduled to dock at the station on Thursday around 12:15 p.m. ET, with astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore as commander and Sunita “Sonny” Williams as mission pilot.

This was Starliner’s third launch attempt. The countdown stopped on Saturday with less than four minutes left in the match. The reason was a problem with the flight computers controlling the launch. Launch provider ULA replaced the system’s power supply and cleared it for launch on Wednesday. This came after a launch attempt last month was canceled due to poor functioning of the valve in the upper stage of the Atlas V Centaur rocket.

While fixing this problem, Boeing discovered another problem: a helium leak. The gas is used in the Starliner’s propulsion system. After reviewing the data, NASA was confident that Boeing would be able to fly the mission successfully.

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With all these problems solved, and the Starliner on its way to the space station, it seems that this third attempt is indeed a charm. Now launched, Willmore and Williams will take Starliner on its maiden flight, putting the vehicle through its paces ahead of NASA’s operational missions. After the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA partnered with two commercial companies — Boeing and SpaceX — to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

But Boeing has lagged behind its commercial space transportation counterpart SpaceX, which has already flown nine missions for NASA and four other private flights. An unmanned Starliner mission in 2019 failed to reach the station, partly due to a glitch in the flight computer code. NASA and Boeing considered the launch relaunch in 2022 a success, but problems were later discovered with the capsule’s parachute systems.

The analysis also found that the tape used to manage hundreds of feet of cable inside the spacecraft was flammable. Boeing fixed these issues and got the go-ahead from NASA for a crew launch

But that first attempt to launch this crewed mission last month was canceled due to a problem with the rocket responsible for giving the Starliner a huge boost into space.

Willmore and Williams will test the Starliner’s key systems during docking with the space station, including life support and communications. While the spacecraft can fly itself, the duo will test the craft’s manual controls as it approaches the orbital outpost.

The crew will spend about a week aboard the station with a scheduled landing under a canopy of parachutes in the southwestern U.S., and teams at NASA and Boeing will comb through data from this flight before certifying the vehicle for the operational mission. NASA plans to split astronaut flights between Boeing and SpaceX, with trips to the International Space Station about every six months.