UNITED STATES NEWS

Boeing launches NASA astronauts for the first time after years of delays

Jun 5, 2024, 4:12 AM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Boeing launched astronauts for the first time Wednesday, belatedly joining SpaceX as a second taxi service for NASA.

A pair of NASA test pilots blasted off aboard Boeing’s Starliner capsule for the International Space Station, the first to fly the new spacecraft.

The trip by Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams was expected to take 25 hours, with an arrival Thursday. They will spend just over a week at the orbiting lab before climbing back into Starliner for a remote desert touchdown in the western U.S. on June 14.

“Let’s get going!” Wilmore called out a few minutes before liftoff.

Half an hour later, he and Williams were safely in orbit and giving chase to the space station. Back at Cape Canaveral, the relieved launch controllers stood and applauded. After all the trouble leading up to Wednesday’s launch, including two scrapped countdowns, everything went smoothly before and during liftoff, prompting congratulations from SpaceX’s Elon Musk and others.

“Today it all lined up,” said Boeing program manager Mark Nappi.

Years late because of spacecraft flaws, Starliner’s crew debut comes as the company struggles with unrelated safety issues on its airplane side.

Wilmore and Williams — retired Navy captains and former space station residents — stressed repeatedly before the launch that they had full confidence in Boeing’s ability to get it right with this test flight. Crippled by bad software, Starliner’s initial test flight in 2019 without a crew had to be repeated before NASA would let its astronauts strap in. The 2022 do-over went much better, but parachute problems later cropped up and flammable tape had to be removed from the capsule.

Wednesday’s launch was the third attempt with astronauts since early May, coming after a pair of rocket-related problems, most recently last weekend. A small helium leak in the spacecraft’s propulsion system also caused delays, but remained extremely low and manageable.

“It’s just a tough endeavor to get to flight and huge kudos to the entire team for getting there,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager.

Boeing was hired alongside Elon Musk’s SpaceX a decade ago to ferry NASA’s astronauts to and from the space station. The space agency wanted two competing U.S. companies for the job in the wake of the space shuttles’ retirement, paying $4.2 billion to Boeing and just over half that to SpaceX, which refashioned the capsule it was using to deliver station supplies.

SpaceX launched astronauts into orbit in 2020, becoming the first private business to achieve what only three countries — Russia, the U.S. and China — had mastered. It has taken nine crews to the space station for NASA and three private groups for a Houston company that charters flights.

The liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station was the 100th of an Atlas V for rocket maker United Launch Alliance. It was the first ride for astronauts on an Atlas rocket since John Glenn’s Mercury era more than 60 years ago; the rocket usually launches satellites and other spacecraft.

Despite the Atlas V’s perfect record, the human presence cranked up the tension for the scores of NASA and Boeing employees gathered at Cape Canaveral and Mission Control in Houston.

Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon are designed to be fully autonomous and reusable. Wilmore and Williams occasionally will take manual control of Starliner on their way to the space station, to check out its systems. The only snag early in the flight involved the capsule’s cooling system. More water was used than expected before the radiators took over in orbit. The tank will be refilled before the ride home.

If the mission goes well, NASA will alternate between SpaceX and Boeing for taxi flights, beginning next year. The backup pilot for this test flight, Mike Fincke, will strap in for Starliner’s next trip.

“This is exciting. We built up to this moment for years and years, and it finally happened,” Fincke said from neighboring Kennedy Space Center. “I feel like the whole planet was cheering for them.”

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Associated Press

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty in deal with US and return to Australia

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will resolve a long-running legal saga that spanned multiple continents and centered on the publication of a trove of classified documents, according to court papers filed late Monday. Assange is scheduled to […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Sen. Bob Menendez’s Egypt trip planning got ‘weird,’ Senate staffer recalls at bribery trial

NEW YORK (AP) — A Senate staffer testified at a bribery trial that planning for Sen. Bob Menendez’s 2021 trip to Egypt and Qatar got “weird” after the Democrat directed that Egypt be included in the process, a Senate staffer testified Monday. Sarah Arkin, a senior staffer with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, testified as […]

4 hours ago

...

KTAR Video

Video: A preview of Arizona Congressional District 8 Republican Debate

Arizona Congressional District 8 Republican Debate is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25, but Chris Merrill and guest host Barry Markson consider the candidates running in that district.

4 hours ago

...

KTAR Video

Video: A look at the state of Arizona politics amid primary debates

As the Arizona primary election debates continue, Chris Merrill and guest host Barry Markson take a closer look at the current state of politics in the 48th state. Video: Jeremy Schnell and Felisa Cárdenas/KTAR News

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Wisconsin taxpayers to pay half the cost of redistricting consultants hired by Supreme Court

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin taxpayers will pay half of the $128,000 bill submitted by redistricting consultants hired by the state’s Supreme Court for the work they did reviewing proposed legislative maps, the liberal majority of the court ordered Monday. Conservative justices dissented, sharply criticizing the majority for hiring the consultants and not divulging more […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge sets $10 million bond for Venezuelan man accused of killing a 12-year-old Houston girl

HOUSTON (AP) — A judge in Texas set bond of $10 million Monday for an undocumented Venezuelan man accused of killing a 12-year-old Houston girl whose body was found in a creek after she disappeared during a walk to a convenience store. Franklin Jose Peña Ramos, 26, is one of two men charged with capital […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Boeing launches NASA astronauts for the first time after years of delays