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Ten years after commissioning: the first manned flight of the Starliner vehicle to the International Space Station

Ten years after commissioning: the first manned flight of the Starliner vehicle to the International Space Station

As of: May 6, 2024 at 12:34 PM

After years of delay, the American company Boeing's Starliner space capsule is scheduled to fly into space with people on board for the first time. The rocket is scheduled to launch early Tuesday morning from Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Ten years ago, Charles Bolden, then head of NASA, announced a program in which the United States wanted to make its own flights to the International Space Station again. The ulterior motive was not to rely on Russia to transport people and cargo to the International Space Station after the end of the space shuttle era.

This time, the US space agency did not want to develop and build the space shuttles itself, but instead commissioned the aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the company SpaceX owned by technology billionaire Elon Musk. From the perspective of the time, Boeing seemed to have an advantage with its Starliner spacecraft. The company received an order worth more than four billion dollars, SpaceX $2.6 billion. But things did not go smoothly at Boeing. There were crises, problems, and delays.

Difficulties During the tests

During the first unmanned test in 2019, the Starliner vehicle did not reach the International Space Station due to software problems. A second unmanned test flight was successful in 2022, but then numerous problems arose again, delaying the planned manned test flight.

Now on Tuesday morning at 4:34 a.m. CEST, the first crewed Starliner flight is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida – with NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams on board. The capsule will be transported into space by an Atlas V rocket developed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

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Boeing's Starliner is a partially reusable spacecraft consisting of a three-metre-tall crew capsule and a service module, designed for four crew members and, unlike the Crew Dragon, landing on land rather than water.

“We're ready, the spaceship is ready.”

The spacecraft is expected to arrive at the International Space Station on Wednesday, where Willmore and Williams are expected to stay for about a week. “It almost seems unreal,” Williams, 58, who has been aboard the International Space Station twice, said at a press conference beforehand. “We wouldn't be here if we weren't prepared,” said fellow astronaut Wilmore, 61, who has also been to space twice. “We're ready. The spacecraft is ready, the team is ready.”

SpaceX won the race

Meanwhile, rival SpaceX has long outpaced Boeing. In 2020, Crew Dragon successfully conducted a manned test of the International Space Station for the first time, and astronaut transfers have been ongoing ever since. The regular eighth crew is currently on the space station, having arrived there aboard the Dragon spacecraft.