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Starliner astronauts give first tour of the docked spacecraft

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore have given space fans a tour of Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which is currently docked at the International Space Station (ISS).

The pair traveled to the ISS aboard the Starliner in the spacecraft’s first crewed flight, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a ULA Atlas V rocket on Wednesday. The vehicle docked with the orbital outpost the following day.

Williams kicked off the 10-minute tour (below) on Sunday, floating in the microgravity conditions from the space station into the docked Starliner spacecraft.

NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test Starliner Tour

The video shows a cockpit view of the Starliner’s control panels and various switches and knobs that control the spacecraft’s systems.

“Everything’s been fantastic,” Wilmore said. “The spacecraft has handled remarkably well, much better even than the simulator.” Now on his third space flight, the American astronaut explained how they had already used the Starliner to practice what’s known as a “safe haven event,” in which they have to hurriedly enter the Starliner and secure the hatch. Such an emergency could occur if, say, a hazardous piece of space debris is spotted heading toward the ISS, with the Starliner potentially acting as an emergency escape system.

He also said that despite the vehicle looking a little cramped inside, the spacecraft is “actually fairly roomy for just Sunni and myself.” The vehicle can hold up to seven astronauts, though the next crewed flight is set to carry three.

While flying the Starliner with its first crew is an undoubted achievement, its flight to the space station last week wasn’t without issues. Several helium leaks, for example, were identified on the spacecraft, which the mission team is now monitoring. There was also an issue with the docking process involving the spacecraft’s reaction control thrusters, though the crew was able to overcome it.

The current flight test will help NASA to validate the entire transportation system involving the Starliner, including the launchpad, rocket, spacecraft, in-orbit operations capabilities, and systems for bringing the capsule home with the astronauts on board.

Once satisfied that everything is working as it should, NASA will certify the Starliner for rotational missions to the space station, giving the agency another flight option alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, which flew its first astronauts to orbit in 2020.

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Trevor Mogg
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