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Boeing Starliner spacecraft 'go' for 1st astronaut launch on May 6, NASA says

• https://www.space.com, By Elizabeth Howell

The new Starliner spacecraft is "go" for its first-ever astronaut launch on Monday (May 6), Boeing and NASA officials announced today (May 3).

Barring bad weather or any last-minute technical issues, Starliner was cleared to send two veteran NASA astronauts and former U.S. Navy test pilots to the International Space Station (ISS). On board this mission, known as Crew Flight Test (CFT), will be commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams.

The duo are completing last-minute training items and quarantining here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center ahead of their historic liftoff, which is scheduled for Mondauy at 10:34 p.m. EDT (0234 GMT on Tuesday, May 7) from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Coverage will run live here on Space.com, via NASA Television.

"We had the launch readiness review, and everyone polled 'go' to proceed," Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during a press conference today.

CFT will not only be the first time that Boeing's Starliner carries astronauts, but also the first time that United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas V rocket takes on that task. Rollout of the stacked rocket will take place tomorrow (May 4).

Pending the success of CFT, Boeing will join SpaceX in sending operational, six-month-long crewed missions to the ISS. Both companies received commercial crew contracts from NASA in 2014, with Boeing's valued at $4.2 billion back then, compared to SpaceX's $2.6 billion. 

CFT was then slated to launch in 2023 — until more critical issues were uncovered, such as problems with the capsule's main parachutes and flammable tape on the capsule's wiring. These issues are behind the team, everyone has emphasized, and CFT is ready to go. If this first astronaut flight goes well, the debut operational crewed mission of Starliner should follow in 2025.

SpaceX has since launched 12 crewed missions to the ISS, including a test flight in 2020, while Starliner's first crewed effort has been delayed by several issues. The Boeing vehicle's first uncrewed flight to the ISS, which launched in December 2019, failed to reach its destination due to technical glitches. The pandemic, and the need to address the issues that arose on that first flight, delayed Starliner's second uncrewed test flight until May 2022. That effort was successful, reaching the ISS and meeting all of its other major objectives.

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