Astronauts finally blast off on Boeing’s new Starliner spacecraft

Boeing, NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are breathing a sigh of relief after successfully launching Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

ULA’s Atlas V rocket blasted off on schedule at 10:52 a.m. ET Wednesday and reached orbit just under an hour later.

This comes after their second launch attempt was scrubbed with just three minutes and 50 seconds left on the clock on Saturday, with astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore strapped in and ready to go.

“We got really close today,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, in the news conference following the launch call-down.

“I know it’s a little disappointing. We were all excited. This is kind of the way space flight is.”

A man and woman in blue astronaut jumpsuits are seen waving.
NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Suni Williams, wearing Boeing spacesuits, are seen as they prepare to depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to board the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the Crew Flight Test launch, on June 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Joel Kowsky/NASA)

In that news conference, officials said the countdown clock automatically stopped due to a “failed power distribution source” on ULA’s Atlas V rocket, which initially triggered a launch hold. However, the rocket had an instantaneous launch window, meaning it had to launch at a precise time.

The teams replaced the part over the weekend.

“I really appreciate all the work by the NASA, Boeing and ULA teams over the last week,” Stich said.

“In particular, the ULA team worked really hard to quickly learn more about these issues, keep our NASA and Boeing teams informed and protect for this next attempt. We will continue to take it one step at a time.”

A long road

In 2014, NASA gave contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing to provide a new spacecraft capable of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), as the space agency had mothballed its space shuttle program and was reliant solely on Russian Soyuz rockets.

SpaceX successfully began launching astronauts to the ISS in 2020. However, Boeing has faced several setbacks and cost overruns, and has yet to conduct a successful crewed test launch. 

A white rocket leaves a trail of smoke on a launch pad as it soars into a blue sky dotted by white clouds.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with its Crew Dragon capsule blasts off to the International Space Station in 2022. (SpaceX)

Saturday’s scrub follows a previous attempt on May 6, which was called off due to an oxygen leak on ULA’s Atlas V rocket. 

However, issues with the spacecraft were discovered once the rocket was rolled back to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility, which also included a helium leak, which was not fixed ahead of Saturday’s launch. 

NASA and Boeing said that there was no danger to the astronauts launching with such a small leak.

A second issue pertaining to how Starliner would deorbit and return to Earth was discovered and a workaround was developed.

If the launch happens as scheduled, Williams and Wilmore will dock with the ISS on June 6 at 12:15 p.m. ET.

And once again, it’ll be Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk who will be speaking to the pair from NASA’s Capcom, or capsule communicator, leading up to and during their launch. He is scheduled to fly the first operational flight (not a test, as this one is) of Starliner in 2025.

WATCH | More on Canadian Joshua Kutryk’s scheduled flight in 2025: 

Canadian astronaut heading to International Space Station

Astronaut Joshua Kutryk will be the next Canadian to head to the International Space Station, flying there for a six-month mission starting in 2025. Meanwhile, Jenni Gibbons was named as Jeremy Hansen’s backup for the Artemis II mission to lunar orbit.

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