Starliner astronauts arrive at launchpad for first crewed flight tonight

The Starliner astronauts arrive at the launchpad for the spacecraft's first crewed flight.
Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams make their way to the Starliner spacecraft. NASA

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams have arrived at the Starliner spacecraft that will take them to the International Space Station (ISS) in the first flight for the crew capsule.

A ULA Atlas V rocket will carry the Boeing-made Starliner and the two astronauts to orbit in a launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida that’s scheduled for 10:34 p.m. ET tonight.

Digital Trends has full details on how to watch a live stream showing the launch buildup and the early stages of the mission.

Wilmore and Williams had a short chat with family and friends before climbing aboard NASA’s Astrovan for the ride to the Atlas V rocket on the launchpad. Commentators following the proceedings said a TV aboard the van was playing Top Gun: Maverick as it motored its way to the launch site. After the Astrovan arrived, the pair exited the vehicle and walked the short distance to the launchpad. At the time of writing, the two astronauts are settling into the Starliner capsule for their ride to orbit.

The first crewed Starliner flight has been a long time coming. The capsule took its maiden test flight in December 2019, but failed to make it to the ISS after it was unable to reach the proper orbit. The mission surfaced a slew of issues that had to be addressed before a second test flight could take place.

It was eventually ready to fly again in May 2022, and the mission was deemed a success after it managed to reach the ISS, dock, and then return to Earth in a parachute landing. Further technical issues had to be addressed before the Starliner was ready to carry a crew, and barring any last-minute problems, the historic flight should take place in just a few hours’ time.

Wilmore and Williams will thoroughly test all of the Starliner’s systems during their time inside the capsule. They’ll spend about a week aboard the ISS before returning to Earth in the same vehicle. If NASA and Boeing are happy with the crewed test flight, the Starliner will begin carrying crews to and from the space station in the same way that SpaceX has been doing with its Crew Dragon capsule in recent years.

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