Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (2024)

Sunita Williams has been known to bring elements of her Indian heritage to space

Kimmy Yam

Astronaut Sunita Williams, who's Indian American, has been known to bring items representing her culture with her to space.

Williams, 58, has completed two other space missions. She previously told reporters that she brought some essentials onboard past flights, including sacred texts Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and, of course, samosas.

“I really appreciate my Indian heritage and was glad I could bring part of it with me to space,” Williams said during a 2013 news conference in Delhi, before referencing the elephant-headed Hindu god. “Ganesh has always been in my house. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had Ganesh, and so he had to come with me to space, of course. And Indian food — you can never get enough of Indian food … so I had to make sure I had some samosas in space with me. Other types of Indian food we definitely had up there as well.”

Date for astronauts' landing back on Earth is tentative

Denise Chow

The Starliner capsule and its astronaut crew is expected to spend about a week at the International Space Station.

NASA said the earliest landing opportunity is June 14, but that could change, particularly if there are additional activities for Wilmore and Williams to perform at the station.

“Boy, what a heck of a day it was today”

Denise Chow

This morning's launch went about as well as anybody could ask for, according to representatives from NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance.

"Boy, what a heck of a day it was today," Steve Stich, NASA’sCommercial Crew Program manager, said in a post-launch news briefing.

Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program, said the successful liftoff was a significant milestone for the company.

"My boss was here today, my boss’s boss was here today, and my boss’s boss’s boss was here today, so obviously it means a ton to us," Nappi said.

He added that Boeing teams are still focused on the mission ahead. After it's completed, they will prioritize the certification process, which would allow Boeing to conduct regular missions to the space station for NASA.

The Starliner capsule is scheduled to dock at the International Space Station tomorrow. If successful, that will be another major milestone checked off the list for this crewed test flight. The capsule will join five other vehicles already parked at the orbiting outpost, including one of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsules.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing two U.S. vehicles at the International Space Station," said Ken Bowersox, associate administratorfor NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. "I know Butch and Suni will probably get a kick out of that, if they get a chance to look out the windows."

Cooling system being monitored

Denise Chow

NASA and Boeing are monitoring a cooling system on the Starliner capsule that is used to regulate temperatures during launch and landing. In a post-launch news briefing, Steve Stich, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, said the system used more water than expected during ascent.

But he added that backup systems have been engaged and engineers will take a closer look at the data.

Elon Musk says congrats

Denise Chow

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, Boeing’s rival spaceflight company, joined the chorus of well wishers.

“Congratulations on a successful launch,” he posted on X.

Musk is preparing for his own rocket launch this week: the fourth test flight of SpaceX’s Starship megarocket and spacecraft. That flight is expected to lift off tomorrow from the company’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

NASA's chief sends congratulations

Denise Chow

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson celebrated today's Starliner launch, congratulating the teams at NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance on the successful liftoff.

"Today's launch is a milestone achievement for the future of spaceflight," he wrote on X. "Butch and Suni—safe travels through the stars. See you back home."

"Godspeed Starliner!" says astronaut scheduled to pilot it next

Dana Varinsky

NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who is scheduled to be the pilot of the Starliner's first operational flight (this one is considered a test flight), celebrated the launch today.

Fincke trained with Wilmore and Williams as the backup pilot for this mission, and he conducted live commentary for this morning’s launch.

Fincke's mission will send him to the International Space Station for six months along with fellow NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, who will be the mission's commander, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Josh Kutryk.

One for the history books

Denise Chow

Today’s launch was the first crewed flight of the Starliner capsule, but a number of other historic milestones were achieved, as well.

Astronaut Suni Williams became the first woman to test an orbital spacecraft. Today’s launch was also the 100th liftoff of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, and its first carrying a human crew.

Over the past two decades, the booster has been a workhorse for uncrewed missions for NASA and the U.S. military, but today's flight is a new beginning for the Atlas V rocket.

Earlier iterations of the Atlas rocket were used during NASA's Project Mercury, which was the country's inaugural human spaceflight program.

Next stop: The International Space Station

Denise Chow

The Starliner capsule is now on its way to the International Space Station. The capsule is expected to dock at the station tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. ET.

“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.”

In addition to the two astronauts, the Starliner is also carrying about 760 pounds of cargo, including some food and items requested by the crew while on the space station.

Orbital insertion burn

Denise Chow

Boeing said the Starliner capsule successfully performed what's known as an orbital insertion burn, which involves firing its thrusters to put the spacecraft into a more stable, elliptical orbit.

This essentially helps the capsule chase the space station as it prepares to rendezvous and dock with the orbiting outpost tomorrow.

Watch the moment Boeing's Starliner blasted off

NBC News

Starliner is in orbit

Denise Chow

Mission controllers confirmed that the Starliner capsule has reached orbit and successfully separated from the Centaur upper stage, meaning it is now flying on its own in space.

So far, so good

Denise Chow

The Atlas V rocket continues to perform well, according to NASA officials. The rocket's Centaur upper stage ignited to push the Starliner spacecraft into orbit. The next major milestone will be when the Centaur's main engine cuts off and separates from the capsule.

Solid rocket boosters have separated

Denise Chow

The Atlas V's solid rocket boosters have been depleted of fuel and were successfully jettisoned as the spacecraft continues on to orbit.

Cheers and car alarms

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (12)

Marissa Parra

Juliette Arcodia

Marissa Parra and Juliette Arcodia

Reporting from Cape Canaveral, Florida

A mix of cheers and car alarms sounding on the beach near the launch site as Starliner roars skyward.

We have liftoff

Denise Chow

The rocket has cleared the tower.

"Godspeed, Butch and Suni," mission controllers radioed in the final seconds before liftoff.

A message from the astronauts

Denise Chow

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (16)

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore sent a message to his colleagues with less than five minutes to go to liftoff.

"We all know that when the going gets tough, and it often does, the tough gets going. And you have," Wilmore told mission controllers. "Suni and I are honored to share this dream of spaceflight with each and every one of you."

"Let's get going," Wilmore said. "Let's put some fire on this rocket and push it to the heavens, where all these tough Americans have prepared it to be."

Williams also radioed a message back to mission control: "Let's go, Calypso," she said, referring to the name of the Starliner capsule. "Take us to space and back."

Past the last scrub point

Juliette Arcodia

Reporting from Cape Canaveral, Florida

Andwe’veofficially passed the 3:50 mark, where we scrubbed on Saturday.

We are "go" for launch

Denise Chow

Mission controllers conducted a "go/no-go" poll and deemed all systems are ready for launch.

"You have permission to launch," the launch director radioed, as the countdown proceeds to liftoff.

Starliner capsule ready for launch

Denise Chow

The suspended walkway has been retracted from the spacecraft and the Starliner capsule is now on its own internal power.

Quiet anticipation

Juliette Arcodia

Reporting from Cape Canaveral, Florida

All the media is outside getting ready, 8 minutes to launch — very silent out here as anticipation builds.

10 minutes to go

Jason Abbruzzese

We're about 10 minutes away from launch.

Weather is 'go' for launch

Denise Chow

Conditions are still 90% favorable for liftoff, according to the latest weather briefing conducted by the Space Launch Delta 45 Weather Squadron.

There are beautiful, blue skies over the launch pad and weather is looking good for today’s long-awaited launch.

A (distant) view of launch pad 41

Juliette Arcodia

Reporting from Cape Canaveral, Florida

Here’sour view from the roof of the NBC News building with less than 30 mins to go until launch. You can see Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 41 in the distance to the far right, where Starliner is planned to launch.

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (21)

25 minutes to launch

Jason Abbruzzese

We're roughly 25 minutes away from the scheduled launch time for Starliner.

Keep in mind, plenty of checks still have to happen, and the mission could be scrubbed again.

Still, looking good so far.

The first 31 minutes of flight

Denise Chow

Things will get especially exciting in the first few minutes of flight.

Forty-five seconds after liftoff, the Starliner capsule and its crew will reach what's known as Max Q, or the maximum dynamic pressure that they will experience during ascent into orbit. This occurs right around when the spacecraft reaches Mach 1, the speed of sound.

At 11 minutes and 58 seconds into flight, the capsule will reach orbit. A few minutes later, the Starliner spacecraft will separate from the upper stage of the rocket and start flying on its own.

Thirty-one minutes into flight, the Starliner capsule will conduct a burn that will put it into a slightly elliptical orbit on its way to the International Space Station.

Spot the rocket

Denise Chow

Even if you aren’t in and around Cape Canaveral, Florida, you may still be able to spot the Atlas V rocket as it carries the Starliner capsule to space.

The booster will be launching on a “flat and long” trajectory up the Eastern Seaboard, according to Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, which manufactures the Atlas V rocket. That means people all along the southern coast of the U.S. have a good chance of seeing the rocket on its way into orbit, he said.

Testing the Starliner capsule's manual mode

Denise Chow

During this upcoming flight, the astronauts will perform a number of tests to show that the Starliner capsule can safely ferry crew members to and from low-Earth orbit.

Boeing’s spacecraft is designed to fly autonomously, but the astronauts will take the controls at various points to demonstrate the capsule’s handling and to practice emergency scenarios.

As the capsule approaches the space station, it is designed to autonomously dock with the orbiting outpost, but Wilmore and Williams again plan to test its manual controls tomorrow on their final approach.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has been flying regular crewed flights to the space station since 2020, flies and docks on its own but has manual controls that can be activated, if necessary.

Meanwhile, in Texas...

Denise Chow

Boeing is not the only one with a much-anticipated launch this week.

SpaceX is scheduled to conduct a fourth, uncrewed test flight of its Starship megarocket tomorrow. It will occur at SpaceX’s Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas, with a target launch window that opens at 8 a.m. ET.

Starship is the most powerful rocket ever developed. The upcoming flight aims to test technologies and techniques that will be key on future missions to the moon. In particular, SpaceX is hoping to demonstrate the reusability of the Starship system by showing that the upper-stage spacecraft and the rocket’s first-stage booster, known as Super Heavy, can make controlled and safe re-entries through Earth’s atmosphere.

Starship was selected by NASA to carry astronauts to the lunar surface for the agency’s Artemis III mission, which could launch in 2026.

What to expect

Denise Chow

As the countdown clock ticks closer to liftoff, here’s what to expect.

The astronauts are now strapped into their seats and the Starliner capsule’s hatch is closed. A series of leak checks will be performed, then the "crew access arm" — the suspended walkway used to access the capsule — will retract away from the spacecraft.

Next, various teams of mission controllers will conduct a “go-no go” poll to confirm that all systems are ready for liftoff. Then, it’s all up to the Atlas V rocket to light and take the Starliner capsule and its crew to space.

After launch, there will be a number of key milestones to keep an eye on. Around 15 minutes after liftoff, the Starliner capsule will separate from the upper stage of the rocket. Roughly 16 minutes after that, the spacecraft will conduct a burn to help it reach a stable orbit.

Next, Wilmore and Williams will spend around 24 hours journeying to the International Space Station. Docking with the orbiting outpost is expected tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. ET.

What's inside the Starliner capsule

Denise Chow

This mission is a test flight but the Starliner capsule is packed with nearly 800 pounds of cargo to take to the International Space Station.

Most importantly, the spacecraft is carrying a new pump for the space station's urine processor assembly, which filters and recycles urine and other wastewater, turning it into safe drinking water.

The capsule is also loaded with mission patches, pins, American flags, collectible coins and a hard drive loaded with thousands of pieces of artwork made by children from around the world. The astronauts have packed along some personal items for family and friends, and some other surprise items will be revealed during the mission, according to NASA.

The press assembles

Juliette Arcodia

Reporting from Cape Canaveral, Florida

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (29)

We’re setting up here at the NBC News building and the parking lot is getting more full with members of the media.

About two hours before launch, there were already about 15 tripods set up for live shots down by the countdown clock, and members of the Kennedy Space Center media team and members of the press were making preparations.

Closing the hatch

Denise Chow

Personnel are now closing the hatch of the Starliner capsule.

“See you in a couple weeks,” one team member radioed to the astronauts in the spacecraft.

Next, the capsule will be pressurized to check for any leaks.

Aerial views of the rocket

NBC News

All eyes are on the launch pad as preparations continue for a scheduled 10:52 a.m. ET liftoff.

From the oceans to the cosmos

Denise Chow

The astronauts are bringing a small, sequined narwhal toy with them to space. The toy was chosen to be their “zero-gravity indicator,” which serves as a visual indicator that the Starliner capsule has reached the weightlessness of microgravity.

Look for the narwhal to be floating around the spacecraft (on a tether!) when the crew reaches orbit.

Getting buckled in

Denise Chow

Astronauts Butch Williams and Sunita Williams are getting strapped into their seats inside the Starliner capsule. Another round of spacesuit leak checks will be performed, and teams will make sure the crew members can reach all of their controls and communicate with mission managers on the ground.

The Starliner craft is relatively roomy, as far as space capsules go. The interior is roughly equivalent to a midsize SUV, according to NASA.

Weather looks good for launch

Denise Chow

Weather conditions are 90% favorable for liftoff this morning.

Teams are monitoring the possibility of cumulus clouds forming around the launch pad closer to launch time, but NASA officials said the threat is currently low. It’s dangerous to launch through puffy cumulus clouds because that can trigger a lightning strike, which would endanger the astronauts onboard.

Beyond Florida, mission managers also need to keep an eye on weather conditions all along the rocket’s ascent corridor up the Eastern Seaboard. This is because there are points along that path where, if something were to go wrong, the Starliner capsule could abort and separate off the top of the rocket before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

A family affair

Marissa Parra

Reporting from Cape Canaveral, Florida

In an interview hours before Saturday’s launch attempt was called off, Sunita Williams’ mother, Bonnie Pandya, told NBC News that her daughter was in good spirits.

“She’s very upbeat. She’s so happy about going,” Pandya said. “She loves it.”

Pandya said she expects her own emotions will run high when her daughter finally lifts off.

“When it goes, I’ll get very emotional,” Pandya said. “She’s my beautiful little girl — the baby of the family.”

Rock, paper, scissors...

Denise Chow

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (36)

Before heading to the launch pad, Wilmore and Williams are playing a game of "rock, paper, scissors" with Joe Acaba, chief of the Astronaut Office. This is a new take on an old tradition of playing a game of cards before launch, dating back to the space shuttle era.

The goal is to lose the games before heading to the launch pad. Why? Because the astronauts are effectively leaving their bad luck behind on Earth before lifting off.

Rocket is fueled and ready to go

Denise Chow

NASA officials say that the Atlas V rocket is now fully fueled at the launch pad.

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are finishing up leak checks on their spacesuits before they head to the launch site.

Fellow astronaut Michael Fincke, who trained with Wilmore and Williams as the mission’s backup pilot and is conducting live commentary for this morning’s launch, said the crew members are ready to fly.

“We’ve been waiting for over five years to get Starliner launched, but they are very, very excited about today,” Fincke said. “You can see that they’re focused on getting the job done and they are very ready for this mission, and they wish all of us a great experience in joining them on this great journey.”

Medical checks cleared

Jason Abbruzzese

Boeing said early this morning that the astronauts have cleared medical checks.

Meet the astronaut crew

Denise Chow

NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams are set to make history as the first crew members to fly aboard the Starliner capsule.

Wilmore and Williams are both veteran astronauts and former test pilots in the U.S. Navy. NASA selected the pair in 2022 for Boeing’s first crewed test flight.

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (40)

Wilmore, the mission’s commander, has completed two previous spaceflights, logging 178 days in space. A Tennessee native, he piloted the space shuttle Atlantis to the space station in 2009, and also launched to the orbiting outpost aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2014 as a member of the space station’s Expedition 41 crew.

Williams, the mission’s pilot, previously completed two stints aboard the International Space Station, totaling 322 days in space. She grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, and first flew to the space station on the space shuttle Discovery and remained there for about six months.

In 2012, Williams returned to space, this time in a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. Her second stay on the space station lasted roughly four months.

Why this flight is important

Denise Chow

The Starliner’s crewed test flight is required for Boeing to show that its spacecraft can safely carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Rival company SpaceX has been conducting routine flights to the space station with its Crew Dragon capsule since 2020. Boeing is hoping that a successful test flight will help it catch up to SpaceX and will provide NASA with a long-awaited second option.

Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon were both developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which was launched more than a decade ago to support the creation of new, privately built space vehicles to fill the void left when the agency retired its space shuttles.

Third time's a charm?

Denise Chow

It’s launch day for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft!

This will be the third attempt to launch the capsule on its first flight with a crew onboard, following repeated delays, so the event should be closely watched.

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (43)

The Starliner completed an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station in 2022, paving the way for it to carry astronauts. But its first try at a crewed launch, on May 6, was scrubbed with about two hours remaining in the countdown due to an issue with a valve on the rocket. A helium leak was later found in the capsule’s propulsion system, which led to further delays.

Then on Saturday, a second launch attempt wascalled offwith less thanfourminutes to go before liftoff, after an automatic abort was triggered by one of the computers that controls the Atlas V rocket on which the Starliner rides to space. The rocket is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Those setbacks followed years of delays and budget overruns in Boeing's Starliner program, so the stakes are high today.

Boeing Starliner flies NASA astronauts into space for first time (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Edmund Hettinger DC

Last Updated:

Views: 6302

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Edmund Hettinger DC

Birthday: 1994-08-17

Address: 2033 Gerhold Pine, Port Jocelyn, VA 12101-5654

Phone: +8524399971620

Job: Central Manufacturing Supervisor

Hobby: Jogging, Metalworking, Tai chi, Shopping, Puzzles, Rock climbing, Crocheting

Introduction: My name is Edmund Hettinger DC, I am a adventurous, colorful, gifted, determined, precious, open, colorful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.