Finally a first manned flight for Starliner

Everything is ready for the first manned flight of the capsule Starliner from Boeing Monday evening. A success could restore the image of the aerospace giant whose airliners have experienced their share of problems for five years.

“We moved the capsule Dragon from one airlock to another on the International Space Station (ISS), to make room for Starliner said Steve Stich, director of NASA’s commercial human spaceflight program, during a press conference Friday. The weather then had a 95% chance of being favorable for the launch, which is scheduled for 10:34 p.m.

If all goes according to plan, astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams – both US Navy pilots – will head to the International Space Station aboard the capsule.


Astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore

Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk will supervise the mission from Houston. If successful, Starliner will take Mr. Kutryk in early 2025 to a six-month mission to the ISS.

Starliner has certain advantages over Dragon from SpaceX, which has made a dozen flights to the ISS since 2020, according to Mr. Kutryk.

“It lands on land rather than in the sea,” says the Alberta test pilot in an interview with The Press. “If we bring back scientific experiments that need to arrive quickly in a laboratory, it’s valuable. »


1er Last April, Joshua Kutryk made the ceremonial pitch during a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and… Houston Astros!

Another difference is a series of manual controls that make Starliner more versatile in orbit. “We have all automatic controls for normal operations, but if necessary, we have manual modes to control the vehicle. In extreme emergency situations, and for unforeseen future applications in orbit, it can be useful. »

Mr. Kutryk himself took advantage of these capabilities for one of the last simulations before the flight, in April. “We simulated a problem which forced a return to Earth after nine or ten minutes of flight, before arriving in orbit. We had completely lost all the power and electronic systems, and the computers. It’s not realistic. But in the simulation, it was possible to land near Ireland without problem, right next to the chosen location. »

The launch of Starliner has as its backdrop a Sino-American space rivalry. The Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) space station has been occupied since 2021, with a seventh crew just arriving at the end of April. And on Friday, a second Chinese lunar mission that will bring back lunar samples, Chang’e 6 (Lunar Goddess), took off.

Starliner has gone into space twice without an astronaut, in 2019 and in 2022. But a series of problems delayed this first manned flight. In particular, there were problems with the parachutes and with flammable material covering some wires. At the last minute last winter, an oxygen valve had to be replaced.


The second takeoff of the capsule Starliner (uninhabited), May 19, 2022

“These are questions of margin of safety,” says Mr. Kutryk. For the certification of parachutes, for example, it is necessary to plan for use above what will actually happen. »

SpaceX-Boeing competition

The Boeing capsule competed with the Dragon of SpaceX when NASA awarded contracts worth a total of more than US$7 billion to the two companies in 2014 to develop means of transportation for its astronauts. After the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA relied on Russian capsules Soyuz to get to the ISS.

Dragon had a head start because a cargo version had been going to the ISS since 2010.

The suspense lasted until May 2020, when SpaceX achieved its first manned flight. Boeing almost crossed the finish line first, but experienced clock problems during its unmanned test in December 2019. The company had just seen its 737 MAX grounded after two crashes. Lately, other Boeing 737s have had problems, including losing a door mid-flight.

The problems of Starliner are regularly juxtaposed with those of Boeing airliners. During the press conference on Friday, NASA’s big boss, Bill Nelson, admitted to having had doubts.


Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

“I asked (Dave) Calhoun (the big boss of Boeing) questions. He introduced me to the new boss of his Defense and Space division and said: “He’s the right guy.” I could see that it was true. »

Appointed in 2022, the boss of Boeing’s Defense and Space division, Theodore Colbert III, is an engineer and a Boeing veteran.

Watch the capsule move Dragon between two ISS airlocks (in English)

Learn more

  • 150 billion US
    Cost of construction and operation of the ISS until 2010

    Source: SpaceReview

    1 billion US
    Cost of deorbiting the ISS

    Source: NASA

  • 4 billion US
    Annual cost of operating non-Russian sectors of the ISS

    Source: NASA

    Canadian participation in the ISS

    Source: Canadian Space Agency


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