Boeing’s new Starliner crew capsule has rocketed into orbit on a test flight en route to the International Space Station.
Most important points:
- This is Boeing’s third chance at the high-stakes Starliner flight
- First flight in 2019 was hit by software bugs, so heavy ground controllers hastily aborted the mission
- Boeing seeks redemption as it tries to overtake SpaceX
This latest mission comes after years of being grounded by flaws that could have doomed the spacecraft.
There was only a dummy on board when the rocket was launched. If the capsule reaches the International Space Station on Friday and all else goes well, two or three NASA test pilots could strap in for the company’s first manned flight late this year or early next year.
It is Boeing’s third shot on the high-stakes flight.
Starliner’s first test flight in 2019 was hit by software errors so severe that the capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and had to skip the space station. The spacecraft was nearly destroyed when ground controllers hastily aborted the mission.
After dozens of safety repairs, Boeing returned another capsule to the launch pad last summer. Corroded valves stopped the countdown resulting in another round of repairs.
The lengthy test flight program has cost Boeing approximately $600 million (more than $851 million).
Boeing seeks redemption as it tries to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other contracted taxi service.
Elon Musk’s company has been flying astronauts to and from the space station for two years and has been providing cargo for a decade.
To reduce Russia’s high reliance on crew transportation, NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts to the space station after the shuttle program ended in 2011.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said that’s why it was so important for Boeing’s Starliner to succeed.
Starliner will spend nearly a week on the space station before aiming for a landing in the New Mexico desert.
Astronauts watch launch at Cape Canaveral
Boeing’s fully automated capsule, which looks different but is similar in function to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, will attempt to dock itself at the space station.
However, station astronauts are on hand to remotely control the capsule if necessary.
NASA has yet to decide which astronauts will be on the first Starliner crew. The program is so far behind that the original three have been pushed aside.
Leading candidates gathered at Cape Canaveral for the evening launch of Starliner atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.
In addition to Rosie the Rocketeer – a space-age version of World War II Rosie the Riveter – the capsule carries groceries and spacewalking equipment for the seven station residents.
US spacewalks have been suspended since an astronaut’s helmet entered the water in March. NASA is sending additional absorbent pads for use in helmets, in case an emergency spacewalk is needed as the research progresses.
Boeing also flies mementos from historically black colleges and universities and tree seeds similar to those Apollo astronauts took to the moon that became so-called moon trees here on Earth.
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