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Boeing’s Starliner takes off in historic first test flight

06 June 2024

NASA's historic first crewed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft marks a milestone in human space exploration as it heads towards the International Space Station.

Image: NASA/Joel Kowsky
Image: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are safely in orbit on the first crewed flight test aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft bound for the International Space Station.

As part of NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test, the astronauts lifted off at 10:52 a.m. EDT (3:53 p.m. BST) wednesday on a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on an end-to-end test of the Starliner system.

“Two bold NASA astronauts are well on their way on this historic first test flight of a brand-new spacecraft,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“Boeing’s Starliner marks a new chapter of American exploration. Human spaceflight is a daring task – but that’s why it’s worth doing. It’s an exciting time for NASA, our commercial partners, and the future of exploration. Go Starliner, Go Butch and Suni!”

As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the flight test will help validate the transportation system, launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, in-orbit operations capabilities, and return to Earth with astronauts aboard as the agency prepares to certify Starliner for rotational missions to the space station. 

Starliner previously flew two uncrewed orbital flights, including a test to and from the space station, along with a pad abort demonstration.

“With Starliner’s launch, separation from the rocket, and arrival on orbit, Boeing’s Crew Flight Test is right on track,” said Mark Nappi, Vice President And Program Manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. 

“Everyone is focused on giving Suni and Butch a safe, comfortable, ride and performing a successful test mission from start to finish.”

During Starliner’s flight, Boeing will monitor a series of automatic spacecraft manoeuvres from its mission control centre in Houston. NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from the Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“Flying crew on Starliner represents over a decade of work by the Commercial Crew Program and our partners at Boeing and ULA,” said Steve Stich, Manager, Commercial Crew Program, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

“For many of us, this is a career-defining moment bringing on a new crew transportation capability for our agency and our nation. We are going to take it one step at a time, putting Starliner through its paces, and remaining vigilant until Butch and Suni safely touch down back on Earth at the conclusion of this test flight.”

Starliner autonomously docked to the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module on Thursday, 6 June, and will remain at the orbital laboratory for about a week.


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