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Astronauts take major step toward Starliner’s first crewed flight

The official crew portrait for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test. Left is Suni Williams, who will serve as the pilot, and to the right is Barry “Butch” Wilmore, spacecraft commander.
The official crew portrait for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test. From left are Suni Williams, who will serve as the pilot, and Barry “Butch” Wilmore, spacecraft commander. NASA

After numerous delays across many years, NASA is closer than ever to launching its first astronauts aboard the Boeing-made CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

The latest step toward a targeted May 6 launch of the spacecraft involved the two crew members — NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams — entering quarantine, a regular preflight procedure to prevent crew heading to the International Space Station from taking with them any nasty bugs.

As per NASA: “Flight crew health stabilization is a standard process ahead of any human spaceflight mission to ensure the health and safety of the crew prior to liftoff, as well as prevent sickness of the astronauts at the space station.”

During the quarantine period, contact between astronauts and others is limited to remote interactions, though family and some launch team members may also enter quarantine or get special clearance so that they can have face-to-face interactions right up to launch.

Wilmore and Williams will launch aboard the Starliner spacecraft on a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in a mission that is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

When the spacecraft blasts off on the 10-day mission, the pair will make history by becoming the first people to fly on Starliner.

The mission follows two other Starliner flights, the first of which failed to reach the ISS. The flight, which took place in 2019, surfaced a plethora of issues with the Starliner’s flight system, After fixes were made, the spacecraft flew again in 2022 and successfully docked with the ISS.

After more work to improve the Starliner, NASA is now ready to use the vehicle to fly its first crew.

A successful mission will give the space agency another option for getting its astronauts to and from orbit alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has been operational since 2020.

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