Boeing Starliner launch: NASA astronauts take off

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It was a thrilling third attempt for Boeing’s Starliner mission, as it conducted its first manned flight test on Wednesday, marking a milestone that had been a decade in the making.

The new spacecraft launched its maiden manned mission atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10:52 a.m. Eastern time.

This historic event is being live-streamed NASA website,

Veteran NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are traveling to the International Space Station aboard the Starliner capsule.

According to the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, weather conditions were 90% favorable for Wednesday morning’s launch, with only cumulus clouds a concern.

The mission, known as the Crew Flight Test, is the culmination of Boeing’s efforts to develop a spacecraft that can rival SpaceX’s stunning Crew Dragon capsule and expand the United States’ options for ferrying astronauts to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The federal agency’s initiative aims to foster collaboration with private industry partners.

The flight marks the sixth maiden flight of a crewed spacecraft in U.S. history, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a news conference in May.

“It started with Mercury, then Gemini, then Apollo, the space shuttle, then (SpaceX’s) Dragon — and now Starliner,” Nelson said.

Williams will also make history by becoming the first woman to fly on such a mission.

Cory S. Houston/NASA

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore (left) and Suni Williams have been in quarantine since late April to protect their health.

The astronauts will spend about 24 hours traveling to the space station.

After docking Thursday at 12:15 p.m. Eastern time, Williams and Wilmore will spend eight days aboard the orbiting lab, where they will join seven astronauts and cosmonauts already aboard.

Aboard the Starliner is a critical pump needed to repair the space station’s Urine Processor Assembly, which malfunctioned on May 29.

“This urine processor takes all of the crew’s urine and processes it in the first stage of the water recovery system,” said Dana Weigel, NASA’s International Space Station program manager. “Then it sends it down to a water processor that turns it into drinking water. The station is really designed as a closed loop.”

Now, the urine will have to be stored in containers onboard, so the Starliner’s anticipated arrival at the space station may not come anytime soon.

The astronauts will test various aspects of Starliner’s capabilities, including the spacecraft’s thruster performance, the functioning of their spacesuits inside the capsule, and manual piloting if the crew needs to override the spacecraft’s autopilot.

Williams and Wilmore will also test Starliner’s “safe haven” capability, which is designed to provide shelter for the space station crew in the event of a problem, according to Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, at a May 31 news conference.

When it is time to return home, astronauts will use the same Starliner capsule and parachute to land at one of several designated locations in the southwestern United States.

Years of development setbacks, test flight problems and other costly setbacks have slowed Starliner’s path to the launchpad. Meanwhile, Boeing’s rival – SpaceX – has become the transportation provider for the space agency’s astronauts under NASA’s commercial crew program.

The mission could mark the final major milestone before NASA deems Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft ready for regular operations to deliver astronauts and cargo to the space station.

Earlier manned launch attempts on May 6 and June 1 had to be cancelled due to several issues.

Two hours before the launch attempt on May 6, engineers identified a problem with a valve on the second stage, or upper stage, of the Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The entire stack, including the rocket and spacecraft, was rolled back from the launchpad for testing and repairs.

The teams also worked through a Small helium leak Within the Spacecraft Service Module, there is a “Design Vulnerability” in propulsion systems and evaluated parachutes for the Starliner capsule.

On Saturday afternoon, when the Starliner was just 3 minutes and 50 seconds away from liftoff, a plane took off. Automatic hold turned on By the ground launch sequencer or the rocket launching computer.

Technicians and engineers from the United Launch Alliance evaluated ground support equipment over the weekend, checking three large computers housed inside a shelter at the base of the launchpad. Each computer is identical, providing triple redundancy to ensure the safe launch of crewed missions.

“Imagine a big rack that’s a big computer, where the computer’s functions as the controller are divided up into individual cards or printed wire circuit boards,” Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, said during a news conference Saturday. “They’re all stand-alone, but together, it’s an integrated controller.”

Cards in the computers are responsible for various key systems that must be in place before launch, such as releasing bolts at the base of the rocket so it can fly after ignition.

During the final four minutes before launch, the three computers must communicate and agree with each other. But according to Bruno, during Saturday’s countdown, a card on one computer was responding six seconds later than the other two computers, indicating that something wasn’t right and automatically triggering the hold.

Over the weekend, engineers evaluated the computers, their power supplies, and network communications between the computers. The team narrowed the problem down to a single ground power supply within one of the computers, which provides power to computer cards responsible for critical countdown events — including the replenishment valve for the rocket’s upper stage, which also caused a problem during the countdown, according to an update shared by NASA.

The Starliner teams did not find any signs of damage to the computer, which they removed and replaced with a spare. According to the ULA team, the other computers and their cards were also evaluated and they are all working normally as expected.

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