Boeing Starliner cleared for first piloted launch. All you need to know

The Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on May 6, its first crewed mission. The maiden flight will carry astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to and from the International Space Station (ISS) for a roughly 10-day stay.   

The historic project, delayed for over two years due to a variety of technical problems, was set into motion after NASA and Boeing held a flight readiness review for the Crew Flight Test mission, which found no serious issues.

Here are the key details of the  first crewed Starliner launch:

1) Boeing and SpaceX received NASA Commercial Crew Program funding first announced in 2014. Though the initial estimate was that the programme would be ready to take astronauts to the ISS in 2017, it got delayed due to funding and development challenges.

2) The Starliner will lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station which houses NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The capsule is shaped like a gumdrop and measures 4.5 metres across its widest point. It can carry up to seven astronauts.

3) Though this is the maiden crewed flight of the Starliner, it has taken off to the ISS twice before. The first in December 2019 was a failure after it suffered problems after liftoff. The capsule got stranded in an orbit too low for a rendezvous with the station. The second attempt was successful in May 2022 was successful.

4) Though the crewed flight was planned for July 2023, it had to be delayed after engineers discovered several issues in the lead-up to liftoff. 

5) The flight will make Starliner the second after SpaceX’s CrewDragon to ferry astronauts to ISS. Space X began sending U.S. astronauts to orbit in May 2020. The latest was on March 4, carrying a crew of three American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut for a six-month science mission in Earth’s orbit.

6) Willians and Wilmore, seasoned NASA astronauts, entered quarantine  on April 23rd at the NASA Johnson Space Centre. Both former Navy test pilots, will dock at the space station on May 8 and return to Earth on May 15 or shortly thereafter. 

7) Mark Nappi, the vice president, and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program expressed optimism. “This is an important capability for NASA. We signed up to go do this, and we’re gonna go do it and be successful at it. I don’t think of it in terms of what’s important for Boeing as much as I think of it as in terms of what’s important for this program,” he told reporters.