Starliner’s first commander: Don’t expect perfection on crew test flight

Technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida prepare Boeing's Starliner spacecraft for fueling.

Enlarge / Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida prepare Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft for fueling. (credit: Boeing)

HOUSTON—While it doesn’t have the same relevance to public consciousness as safety problems with commercial airliners, a successful test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft in May would be welcome news for the beleaguered aerospace company.

This will be the first time the Starliner capsule flies into low-Earth orbit with humans aboard. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are in the final stages of training for the so-called Crew Flight Test (CFT), a milestone running seven years behind the schedule Boeing said it could achieve when it won a $4.2 billion commercial crew contract from NASA a decade ago.

If schedules hold, Wilmore and Williams will take off inside Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket after midnight May 1, local time, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. They will fly Starliner to the International Space Station for a stay of at least eight days, then return the capsule to a parachute-assisted, airbag-cushioned landing in the western United States, likely at White Sands, New Mexico.

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