International Space Station receives long-awaited arrival of Boeing’s Starliner

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has successfully launched from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida, with two astronauts on board for its first crewed test flight. Commander Butch Wilmore and colleague Suni Williams are currently en route to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will spend a week before returning to Earth.

This milestone launch comes after a series of delays caused by technical faults, either with the capsule itself or the rocket that propelled it. Despite three previous launch attempts this year being scrubbed, the lift-off on Wednesday was textbook, with Starliner soaring into the blue sky on a United Launch Alliance rocket.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed his excitement for the mission, stating, “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.”

The successful launch of Starliner is a critical milestone for the US space program, as it provides a much-needed alternative to Space X’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Currently, it is the only shuttle available for US, European, Canadian, and Japanese astronauts to travel to and from the ISS.

If this test flight is certified by NASA, Boeing is expected to begin operational flights in spring 2025. The space agency commissioned both Space X and Boeing to develop a commercial crew capsule in 2014. While Space X successfully launched astronauts in 2020, Boeing has faced numerous challenges with its spacecraft.

In its first uncrewed mission in 2019, a fault resulted in the capsule running out of fuel, causing the docking with the ISS to be aborted. Although a second flight in 2022 was deemed a success by NASA, there were still thruster problems that needed to be addressed before a human test flight could take place.

Issues with overheating batteries, flammable protective tape around wiring, and problems with the parachute system for the capsule’s return to Earth have all contributed to delays and added costs for Boeing. The company’s losses on the Starliner program are estimated to be around $1.5 billion.

Boeing’s aircraft division has also been under scrutiny since a disused emergency exit door blew off one of its planes shortly after take-off in January. The Federal Aviation Administration, the US air regulator, has since criticized the company’s quality control.

Despite these setbacks, the successful launch of Starliner marks an exciting time for NASA, its commercial partners, and the future of exploration. As the first female test pilot of an orbital spacecraft, Suni Williams is making history and paving the way for future missions.

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