Boeing Starliner launch: How to watch the historic astronaut flight take off

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Boeing’s spaceflight program could reach a major milestone Monday night with the launch of its Starliner spacecraft, carrying – at long last – two NASA astronauts into orbit.

The mission, called Crew Flight Test, could lift off Monday at 10:34 p.m. ET from Space Force Station Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Live coverage of the event will be broadcast NASA channels Starting at 6:30 PM ET on Monday, according to Space agency.

The event has been a decade in the making and is the culmination of Boeing’s efforts to develop a spacecraft worthy of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Development problems, test flight problems, and other costly setbacks slowed the Starliner’s path to the launch pad. Meanwhile, SpaceX, a competitor to Boeing under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, has become the preferred transportation provider for the space agency’s astronauts.

Now, NASA and Boeing have finally deemed the Starliner spacecraft ready for the final test: allowing astronauts to test drive the vehicle in outer space.

Veteran NASA astronauts Sonny Williams and Butch Wilmore will be on board Monday’s mission, taking the Starliner to the International Space Station for a week-long stay.

Throughout the flight, Willmore and Williams will conduct a series of tests, including briefly taking control of the autonomous spacecraft and evaluating how the vehicle functions for the astronauts.

The smooth flight could be a winning moment for Boeing’s spaceflight program and the company in general, which has been in the hot seat due to problems with its commercial aircraft division.

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Here’s what to know about the Starliner flight ahead of its historic crewed test flight.

Boeing officials sought to clarify that Starliner operates separately from the segment at the company responsible for commercial aircraft. The Starliner team’s primary concern is ensuring smooth test mission and crew safety, according to Mark Nappi, vice president and Starliner program manager at Boeing.

“We have humans flying on this vehicle. We always take that seriously,” Nappi said during A.D the news last week. “I’ve spent my career in this business, and it’s always been at the top of my list.”

Terry Reyna/AP

NASA astronauts Sonny Williams, left, and Butch Wilmore pose for a photo after arriving at the Starliner launch site in Florida on April 25, 2024.

Two Starliner astronauts have waited years for the spacecraft to be ready to carry a crew. After rotating several astronauts in and out of missions in the Starliner crew flight test, Wilmore He got his appointment in 2020. NASA moved Williams to this flight in 2022 after initially assigning her in 2018 to a later Starliner mission.

“We had a couple of launch dates, and we were like, ‘OK, we’re ready to go,'” Williams said at a conference on Wednesday. Press Conference. “But now it feels like five days. It’s finally real, and I have to pinch myself a little bit to understand that we’re actually going to go.

At a news conference last month, Steve Stich, director of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said NASA had asked Boeing and SpaceX to meet a certain threshold regarding the risk the mission would lead to astronaut deaths — 1 in 270.

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He said: “Boeing exceeds this number by losing 1 in 295 crew members.”

Boeing was awarded the NASA contract to build the Starliner in 2014 at the same time that the space agency selected SpaceX to build its Crew Dragon capsule.

NASA has awarded the companies deals worth a combined $6.8 billion, with the hope that Boeing and SpaceX’s capsules will be ready to fly by 2017.

This prediction did not work out.

Taking longer than planned, SpaceX launched its first astronaut Crew Dragon capsule in the summer of 2020. It has since completed 13 missions to orbit for NASA astronauts and paying customers.

But Boeing — although NASA officials initially believed Starliner would be ready before SpaceX’s Crew Dragon — faced years of additional delays, setbacks and additional expenses that cost the company more than $1 billion, according to public financial records.

It is worth noting that the first Starliner test mission, which was conducted without a crew in late 2019, was riddled with errors. The vehicle failed in orbit, a symptom of software problems that included a coding error that stopped the internal clock by 11 hours.

second Unmanned flight test in 2022 Additional software issues and problems with some of the vehicle’s engines have been detected.

These disruptions delayed the inaugural crewed flight to 2023. But then a new list of problems emerged: The spacecraft’s parachutes had some components that were weaker than expected, and tape on the craft turned out to be flammable.

Boeing then had to remove this more than a mile-long tape and complete additional parachute tests.

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Finally, after a decade of development, NASA and Boeing cleared the vehicle for astronauts to fly.

Williams and Willmore took a measured approach when responding to questions about Starliner development issues.

“I get it when you say ‘setback,'” Wilmore said during the recent press conference. “But honestly, with all the discoveries we’ve had — that’s what we would call them — they’ve been steps forward.

“This was not a setback, it was moving forward,” he said. “And our families lived through it with us.”

Williams added that she was ready to go to the mission on Monday with the expectation that minor issues would arise.

“We’re always finding things, and we’re always going to find things,” she said Wednesday. “Everything is not going to be absolutely perfect as we fly the spacecraft. And that’s really our goal. We’ve kind of gotten to a point — all of us, as a big team — have gotten to a point where we feel safe and comfortable with the way this spacecraft is flying, and we have backups in case we need to to her. ”

“We’re here because we’re ready,” Williams said.

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