Starliner capsule’s 1st astronaut mission cleared for June 1 liftoff

Starliner capsule’s 1st astronaut mission cleared for June 1 liftoff

a brown and white rocket stands next to its launch tower at night

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft aboard is seen on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station ahead of the Crew Flight Test mission on Sunday, May 5, 2024.
(Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Boeing’s new Starliner capsule has been cleared, again, for its first-ever astronaut launch.

After a flight readiness review today (May 29), teams from Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) polled “go” to proceed toward the Saturday (June 1) launch of the highly anticipated Starliner mission, which is known as Crew Flight Test (CFT).

Team leaders “verified launch readiness, including all systems, facilities and teams supporting the test flight,” NASA officials wrote in an update this afternoon

Related: ‘It’s so complicated:’ Boeing Starliner teams diagnosing helium leak ahead of June 1 astronaut launch

CFT will send NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station (ISS) for a roughly week-long stay. The mission is set to launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket on Saturday at 12:25 p.m. EDT (1625 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, on Florida’s Space Coast.

That’s nearly four weeks later than previously planned. Starliner was first cleared for a targeted May 6 liftoff, but that try was scrubbed about two hours before launch when teams noticed a misbehaving valve in the Atlas V’s upper stage.

The Starliner-Atlas V stack was rolled off the launch pad to a processing building, where the valve was replaced. That work delayed the planned liftoff. And then a new issue cropped up: a slight helium leak associated with a reaction-control thruster in Starliner’s service module.

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Mission teams took some time to assess the leak, pushing the target launch date further to the right. They ultimately determined that the leak was stable and did not pose an appreciable threat to CFT mission success, as the results of today’s review show.

Wilmore and Williams are ready to go as well: The duo arrived on the Space Coast yesterday (May 28), jetting in from Houston, where they’d been training and quarantining at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

a grey-and-blue cone-shaped spacecraft seen through a window with earth below

Boeing’s Starliner space capsule docked at the International Space Station in 2022. (Image credit: ESA)

CFT will be Starliner’s third flight overall. The capsule first lifted off in December 2019, on an uncrewed test mission to the ISS that fell short of its main goal when Starliner suffered a number of glitches shortly after launch and failed to meet up with the orbiting lab.

The capsule succeeded on its second ISS mission, an uncrewed test flight that launched and landed in May 2022. If CFT goes well, Starliner will be certified to carry NASA astronauts to and from the station on long-duration missions.

Boeing holds a contract with the agency to do just that, as does SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company is in the middle of its eighth contracted astronaut mission to the ISS for NASA, known, appropriately enough, as Crew-8.

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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, “Out There,” was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

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