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Watch the long-awaited countdown to the first manned flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft



United Launch Alliance (ULA) has announced that the Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Starliner space capsule is set to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams on board for its first crewed flight to the International Space Station. The launch is scheduled for 12:25 p.m. ET, with weather conditions set at 90% favorable. This highly anticipated mission will involve a 10-day trip to the space station to deliver supplies, including a replacement pump for the station’s urine-to-water conversion system.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has faced years of delays and cost overruns, costing the company over $1 billion. The first uncrewed test flight in 2019 fell short of full success, prompting a second successful test in 2022. However, issues arose during a previous launch attempt in May due to a helium leak in the Starliner service module and a design vulnerability in the propulsion system. Despite these challenges, NASA and Boeing determined that the mission could proceed with minimal risk, with the mission team developing workarounds to address the issues post-flight.

Following a recent parachute malfunction on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space capsule, NASA and Boeing worked to ensure that a similar problem would not affect Starliner’s parachutes. The team identified the cause of the issue and confirmed that the cutters for Starliner’s parachute system had been successfully tested. NASA also made a last-minute switch in payloads for the test flight, replacing the failed pump for the space station’s urine-recycling system with a 150-pound replacement tank. Despite the switch, the crew will have to leave behind personal items to balance the capsule’s mass distribution.

Upon completion of their mission, Wilmore and Williams will return to Earth with a parachute-aided landing in the American Southwest. The data gathered during the test flight will be used to refine Starliner’s spacecraft design, positioning it as a commercial “space taxi” alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for future crewed spaceflights. The success of this mission will depend on the smooth execution of the launch and a safe return for the crew, marking a significant milestone for Boeing’s space program and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

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