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NASA and Boeing reveal new date for first crewed Starliner flight

NASA and Boeing had been hoping to perform the first crewed flight of the Starliner spacecraft next month, but on Wednesday they announced the mission will now take place no earlier than Friday, July 21.

“While the Starliner spacecraft build is complete, additional time is needed to close out verification and validation work prior to the system’s first flight with crew on board,” Boeing said in a statement posted on its website.

The upcoming CST-100 Starliner flight to the International Space Station (ISS) will be crewed by NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Barry Wilmore, with the pair launching on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The goal of the upcoming mission is to test the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner system with crew onboard, including everything from rocket launch to landing and recovery.

“Following a successful test flight, Boeing will work to finalize operational readiness for its post-certification missions and NASA will begin the final process of certifying the Starliner spacecraft and systems for regular, crewed missions to the space station,” the space agency said on Wednesday.

The early stages of the Starliner’s development were beset with issues, with its first flight in December 2019 ending in failure due to a slew of technical problems. After much work, however, an uncrewed Starliner successfully docked with the ISS in May last year, paving the way for the upcoming crewed voyage. If everything goes according to plan, NASA will then have a second crew transport vehicle — along with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule — for astronaut trips to and from the ISS.

“We are very proud of the work the team has done,” said Starliner program manager Mark Nappi. “We understand the significance of this mission for both us and NASA. We will launch when we are ready and that includes at a time when the International Space Station can accept our vehicle.”

The Starliner’s development is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private initiative designed to increase the accessibility of space by bringing together NASA’s decades of experience with new technology developed and built by private firms.

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