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Watch Starliner heading back to the launchpad at Kennedy

Boeing Space's Starliner spacecraft heading back to the launchpad.
Boeing Space’s Starliner spacecraft heading back to the launchpad atop an Atlas V rocket. NASA/Boeing Space

In a big step toward its first crewed flight, Boeing Space’s Starliner spacecraft and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket were transported to the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday.

In a video (seen below) showing the vehicle making its way to the launchpad, Boeing said the Starliner and Atlas V moved at 1 mph (1.6 km/h) along tracks from ULA launch’s Vertical Integration Facility to Space Launch Complex-41 in preparation for Saturday’s historic flight with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

Today, the #Starliner and #AtlasV stack moved at ~1 mph (1.6 km/h) along tracks from @ulalaunch's Vertical Integration Facility to Space Launch Complex-41, ahead of the Crew Flight Test.

On June 1, @NASA_Astronauts Butch Wilmore and @Astro_Suni will launch to @Space_Station. pic.twitter.com/bl5x6uSkkC

— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) May 30, 2024

It’s actually not the first time that the spacecraft and rocket has been placed on the launchpad. At the start of this month, the Starliner and Atlas V were transported to the launchpad for a launch attempt on May 6.

Everything was running smoothly until two hours before the scheduled launch, when engineers spotted an issue with a valve on the rocket’s upper stage, prompting the mission to be postponed.

As teams addressed the valve issue, a helium leak was found on the Starliner spacecraft that also had to be resolved.

While NASA has pushed back several target launch dates since then, this Saturday’s launch looks more certain than ever and — barring any last-minute hiccups — should see the Starliner blast off for a voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) with astronauts on board for the first time.

It’s been a long and rocky road for the Starliner. NASA first tried to send it to the ISS in 2019, but a series of software issues prevented it from reaching the correct orbit, causing the uncrewed test mission to fail.

It wasn’t until 2022 than the Starliner was ready to fly again. That time, the uncrewed vehicle successfully docked with the ISS, and a short while later returned to Earth in a parachute-assisted landing. But after that, more issues surfaced with the Starliner, and it’s taken this long to get the spacecraft ready for its first crewed flight.

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Trevor Mogg
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