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Boeing's Starliner Successfully Launches to the International Space Station

After a decade of work and months of delays, Starliner is in orbit!

By Cassidy Ward

All space travel is inherently dangerous, but there’s a special kind of tension that accompanies inaugural flights. It’s always a little bit spooky being the first to do anything, and we suspect flying a spaceship isn’t any different. In 1999, fictional astronaut John Crichton piloted the Farscape-1 on its first flight and accidentally ended up on the other side of the galaxy. Fortunately for the real-world crew of Boeing’s Starliner, its first crewed launch went off without a hitch (once it finally happened).

Veteran astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore arrived at Cape Canaveral at the end of April to wait for their ride into space. A planned launch on May 6, 2024, was scrubbed two hours before go time when engineers found a problem with a valve in the second stage. Another launch on June 1 was scrubbed just four minutes before takeoff, when one of the automated computer systems triggered an automatic hold. The problem was traced to a ground power supply in the computer, which was repaired. But after a decade of work and a parade of delays, Starliner and her crew are finally off the ground and safely in orbit.

For More on Space Exploration:
SpaceX's Private Polaris Program Aims for First All-Civilian Space Walk
How NASA Fixed Voyager 1 from 15 Billion Miles Away
NASA's Next-Gen Spacecraft Test Will Soar Through Space with an 800-Square-Foot Solar Sail

Starliner Becomes the Second Crewed Commercial Spacecraft to Carry Astronauts to the ISS

Starliner launched aboard an Atlas V rocket at 10:52 Wednesday morning, kicking off the final certification for Boeing’s crewed Starliner capsule. Boeing received funding for the ship as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the same program which provided funding for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

“Two bold NASA astronauts are well on their way on this historic first test flight of a brand-new spacecraft,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, in a statement. “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!”

With a successful launch, Starliner becomes the sixth crewed spacecraft in U.S. history, adding its name to a list that includes Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and Crew Dragon. Now in orbit, the craft will spend just over a day catching up to and docking with the International Space Station.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft approaches the International Space Station

Once there, things will be a little crowded. The station usually has a maximum capacity of seven, but when Williams and Wilmore get there, they’ll bring the total to nine. The duo will spend eight days on the station, testing the spacecraft before returning home. Starliner is also carrying crucial station components including a replacement part for the water purification system. Right now, our intrepid international space explorers are storing urine in containers, CNN reports.

At about noon Eastern time on Thursday, June 6, 2024, Starliner will dock to the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module. NASA will provide arrival coverage beginning at 9:30 ET on the agency’s website and YouTube channel. Docking is targeted for 12:15 P.M. and hatch opening at 2:00 P.M., followed by welcome remarks and a post-docking news conference. Assuming the mission continues as planned, they’ll return to Earth in the same capsule eight days later, having certified the spacecraft’s systems and subsystems. After completing final certification, Starliner will join Crew Dragon in rotational missions to the station.

A few years ago, the United States had no domestic crewed launch capability, following the end of the Space Shuttle program, now we’re on the cusp of having our choice of rides.

Venture into space yourself, in Farscape, streaming now on Peacock.