Boeing’s Starliner Launch: Highly Anticipated Crewed Test Flight Set for Third Launch Attempt

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 5, 2024 07:00
Boeing's Starliner Launch Highly Anticipated Crewed Test Flight Set For Third Launch Attempt

Boeing’s Starliner mission is poised to make its third attempt at launching its first crewed flight test on Wednesday, marking a pivotal milestone in a journey that has spanned over a decade.

The new spacecraft, developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, aims to expand the United States' options for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft will lift off atop an Atlas V rocket at 10:52 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The event will be streamed live on NASA’s website, with coverage beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET, offering space enthusiasts worldwide the chance to witness this historic launch.

The Astronauts and Launch Conditions

The NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are set to embark on this journey, adding another layer of significance to the mission. Wilmore and Williams, both seasoned space travelers, bring a wealth of experience to this crucial test. Wilmore, reflecting on the mission, stated, "I'm not going to say it's been easy. It's a little bit of [an] emotional roller coaster. " Williams added, "We knew we would get here eventually. It's a solid spacecraft. I don't think I would really want to be in any other place right now."

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Nasa Astronauts Butch Wilmore (left) And Suni Williams

Weather conditions are reported to be 90% favorable for the Wednesday morning launch, with the primary concern being cumulus clouds, according to the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron. In the event that the launch cannot proceed as planned on Wednesday, a backup window is available at 10:29 a.m. ET on Thursday, providing a contingency to ensure the mission’s success.

Historical Significance and Boeing's Objectives

This mission, known as the Crew Flight Test, is the culmination of Boeing’s extensive efforts to develop a spacecraft capable of rivaling SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. The significance of this flight cannot be overstated; it will be the sixth inaugural journey of a crewed spacecraft in U.S. history, following the storied paths of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and Dragon.

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This flight represents a critical benchmark for Boeing, aiming to restore the company’s reputation in spaceflight after years of development hang-ups, test flight problems, and costly setbacks. Additionally, Williams will make history as the first woman to fly aboard such a mission, marking a progressive step in space exploration and highlighting the evolving role of women in this field.

The Crew Flight Test is not just about proving the technical capabilities of the Starliner; it also marks an important milestone in the broader context of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This program was established to foster a competitive environment in the private sector, ensuring that the United States maintains a robust and flexible space transportation system. By bringing Boeing's Starliner to operational status, NASA ensures redundancy in access to space, which is crucial for maintaining continuous human presence on the ISS and supporting future exploration missions.

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Mission Tasks and Onboard Activities

Once in orbit, the astronauts will spend just over 24 hours traveling to the ISS, where they are scheduled to dock around 12:15 p.m. ET on Thursday. During their eight-day stay at the ISS, they will join the seven astronauts and cosmonauts already aboard, and engage in various tasks crucial for the mission’s objectives.

Among their critical duties will be testing various aspects of the Starliner’s capabilities, such as the spacecraft’s thruster performance, the functionality of their spacesuits within the capsule, and manual piloting operations in the event they need to override the spacecraft’s autopilot. Furthermore, they will test Starliner’s “safe haven” capability, which is designed to offer the space station crew a shelter in case of emergencies.

Significantly, the Starliner capsule carries a crucial pump needed to repair the space station’s urine processor assembly, which failed on May 29. This component is vital for the ISS’s closed-loop water recovery system, which processes crew urine into drinking water. The timely delivery and installation of this pump will be essential for maintaining the station’s operational efficiency.

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Technical Challenges and Past Delays

The mission has not been without its challenges. Previous launch attempts on May 6 and June 1 were scrubbed due to technical issues. Engineers identified a problem with a valve on the second stage of the Atlas V rocket, which was built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Additionally, there was a small helium leak within the spacecraft service module and concerns regarding the parachutes for the Starliner capsule. The most recent attempt was halted just minutes before liftoff due to an automatic hold triggered by a ground launch sequencer. This necessitated further inspections and replacements of computer hardware responsible for the countdown and launch sequence.

The Road Ahead

The third attempt at launching Boeing’s Starliner is not only critical for Boeing but also a significant step forward in NASA’s strategy to foster collaboration with private industry partners under the Commercial Crew Program. If this mission is successful, it could pave the way for the Starliner to be deemed ready for routine operations, delivering astronauts and cargo to the ISS and providing NASA with an additional, reliable transportation option alongside SpaceX. This success would mark a new era of space exploration, enhancing the United States' capabilities and resilience in space transportation.

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The road to this launch has been fraught with technical challenges and delays, reflecting the complexities and high stakes of human spaceflight. However, the dedication and perseverance of the teams involved underscore the critical importance of this mission. As Wilmore and Williams prepare for their historic flight, the world watches with anticipation, hopeful for a successful journey that will solidify the Starliner’s place in the annals of space exploration.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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