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NASA, Boeing delay Starliner’s first crewed flight again

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Boeing / Boeing

The first crewed test flight of Boeing Space’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has been delayed yet again, but this time it’s not the result of an issue with the vehicle itself.

The most recently announced target date for the launch of the much-anticipated Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) had been April, but in a message on Friday, NASA said it was now aiming to launch the mission in May “due to space station scheduling,” though it declined to go into detail.

The Starliner flight test will involve NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams launching aboard a United Launch Alliance rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The pair will head to the International Space Station (ISS) for a stay of up to two weeks before returning to Earth in the same Starliner capsule.

The development of Boeing’s Starliner vehicle has faced a slew of challenges, with multiple delays caused by various technical issues.

Its first test flight in December 2019 ended when the crew-capable capsule failed to reach the correct orbit to take it to the ISS, though it managed to return to Earth intact. An investigation of the maiden flight revealed a long list of problems that needed to be addressed before the project could proceed. The Starliner was sent on a second test flight in 2022, and that time, it managed to dock with the ISS before returning home safely.

However, additional issues that surfaced after that caused further delays to plans for the first crewed flight test. After much work, NASA and Boeing insist they’re now ready to send the Starliner skyward with astronauts aboard, hopefully in May.

A successful test flight will give NASA another option when it comes to sending astronauts to and from the orbital outpost. The agency currently uses a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle for round trips to the ISS. The Starliner and Crew Dragon have many similarities, but while the latter splashes down in the ocean when it returns home, the Starliner will come down on land.

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