Boeing prepares to send astronauts into space for the first time

(Cape Canaveral) After years of delays and pitfalls, Boeing is finally ready to send astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.

This will be the first flight of the capsule Starliner of Boeing with a crew on board. Two NASA pilots will examine the spacecraft during the journey and week-long stay at the space station.

NASA turned to U.S. companies for astronaut trips after the end of the space shuttles in 2011. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has completed nine trips for NASA since 2020, while Boeing has only managed two test flights without anyone on board.

Mark Nappi, Boeing program manager, wants Starliner is more developed. “There’s no doubt about it, but we are where we are. »

The long-awaited takeoff should take place Monday evening. If this test goes well, NASA will alternate between Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to and from the space station.

The capsule

White with black and blue borders, the capsule Starliner of Boeing measures approximately 3 meters high and 4.5 meters in diameter. It can accommodate up to seven people, although NASA crews typically have four passengers. The company chose the name Starlinera variation of the name of Boeing’s first Stratoliner and current Dreamliner, almost 10 years ago.

No one was on board during the two test flights of the Starliner. The first, in 2019, was marked by serious software problems. The empty capsule was unable to reach the station before the second test in 2022. Then last summer, weak parachutes and flammable tape had to be repaired or removed from the capsule.

Starliner will take off on board the rocket Atlas V of United Launch Alliance (ULA) from the Cape Canaveral space station, Florida. This will be the first time that astronauts board a rocket Atlas since NASA’s Mercury program, which sent John Glenn into orbit around the Earth in 1962. He was the first American to accomplish the feat. Sixty-two years later, it will be the 100the launch of theAtlas Vwhich is used to hoist satellites as well as spacecraft.

“We are very careful during each mission. We’re super, super, super cautious” with human missions, said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Starliner is expected to reach the space station in about 26 hours. Its seven passengers will have their eyes glued to the capsule.

The arrival of a new machine is “a very big deal. You leave nothing to chance,” NASA astronaut Michael Barratt said from orbit. The capsule Starliner will remain docked for eight days, during which time it will be examined, before landing in New Mexico or elsewhere in the western United States.

Boeing has committed to six trips for NASA after this one, through 2030. Boeing’s Mark Nappi is reluctant to discuss other potential customers until this first crewed flight is complete. But the company said a fifth seat would be reserved for private customers. SpaceX periodically sells seats to tycoons and even countries willing to bring their citizens to the station for a few weeks.


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