Boeing’s Starliner finally launches with two NASA astronauts: NPR

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


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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Third time’s the charm.

Boeing’s long-delayed Starliner space capsule carrying two NASA astronauts reached orbit about twelve minutes after liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The race crew will spend the next 25 hours trying to capture the International Space Station.

Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET, astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore will serve as commander and Sunita “Suni” Williams as mission pilot, marking the first time a commercially built capsule has carried humans.

This is Starliner’s third launch attempt. On Saturday, the countdown stopped with less than four minutes to go. The cause was a problem with the flight computers controlling the launch. Launch provider ULA replaced a power supply in the system to allow it to launch on Wednesday. A faulty valve in the center of the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket grounded the launch attempt last month.

While fixing that problem, Boeing discovered another: a helium leak. Gas is used in Starliner’s propulsion system. After a review of the data, NASA was confident that Boeing could successfully fly the mission.

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With all those issues resolved and the Starliner on its way to the space station, this third attempt really does seem to be the charm. Now launched, Wilmore and Williams take the Starliner on its first flight, putting the vehicle through its paces ahead of operational missions for NASA. After the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA partnered with two commercial companies — Boeing and SpaceX — to transport and send astronauts to the space station.

But Boeing lags behind its commercial space shuttle counterpart, SpaceX, which has already flown nine missions for NASA and four more private flights. In 2019, the uncrewed Starliner mission failed to reach the station due to faulty flight computer code. A re-flight of the launch in 2022 was deemed a success by NASA and Boeing, but problems were later discovered with the capsule’s parachute systems.

An analysis found that the tape used to manage the hundreds of feet of cabling on the spacecraft was flammable. Boeing fixed those problems and received permission from NASA to launch crews

But the crew’s first attempt to launch last month was scuppered by a problem with the rocket responsible for giving the Starliner its big boost into space.

Wilmore and Williams will test the Starliner’s vital systems, including life support and communications, as they dock with the space station. Although the spacecraft can essentially fly itself, the two will test the vehicle’s manual controls as they approach the orbiting outpost.

Crews from Southwest America at NASA will spend about a week on the station with a planned landing under parachutes and collect data from the flight before Boeing certifies it for a powered mission. NASA plans to split astronauts between Boeing and SpaceX, with missions to the ISS every six months.

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