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Starliner spacecraft just took a major step toward first crewed flight

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft being stacked on the Atlas V rocket.
A crane lifts the Starliner spacecraft to the top of an Atlas V rocket. Boeing Space

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has been stacked atop the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket ahead of its first crewed flight next month.

After being fully fueled, engineers transported the Starliner spacecraft from Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Tuesday.

Boeing shared a video showing the Starliner’s six-mile journey to the Atlas V rocket.

See #Starliner roll out from our factory to @ulalaunch's Vertical Integration Facility for its Crew Flight Test. Starliner is now stacked on the #AtlasV rocket for a May 6 launch. pic.twitter.com/ovrdclFFEZ

— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) April 16, 2024

“Functionally, this rollout was similar in nature to previous rollouts, treating the spacecraft with the greatest care and detail,” Boeing’s Amanda Ireland said in a release.

Prepareation work will continue at the VIF to ensure the Atlas V and the spacecraft are properly communicating with each other.

NASA and Boeing are currently targeting May 6 for the first crewed flight, which will carry NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams to the International Space Station (ISS).

Boeing has had a tough time getting the Starliner ready for its first crewed test. The spacecraft’s maiden flight in 2019 ended in failure when the vehicle was unable to make it to the ISS. The mission surfaced a slew of issues with the Starliner’s flight systems, which engineers spent years putting right. The spacecraft made it to the ISS for a short stay in another test mission in 2022, though more issues had to be resolved after that.

The first crewed flight has been delayed a number of times, but this time it really does appear that the Starliner will be flying astronauts to the space station in just a few weeks from now.

If the test flight goes according to plan, NASA will have a second commercial spacecraft for crewed trips to orbit alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, which has been flying astronauts since 2020.

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Trevor Mogg
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