Boeing’s Starliner capsule docked with the space station

Boeing’s Starliner capsule will face a critical test on Thursday, when it docks with the International Space Station on its first trip into orbit with astronauts. The aerospace giant is looking to sharpen their competition with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The CST-100 Starliner with astronauts Barry Wilmore (“Butch”) and Sunita Williams (“Suni”) aboard was launched on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, mounted to an Atlas V rocket provided and flown jointly by Boeing-Lockheed Martin’s joint venture United Launch Alliance.

The crew of the reusable capsule in gumdrop shape and the capsule itself have a rendezvous at ISS. The rendezvous is set for 12:15 pm. It is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 1615 GMT (1615 ET) and orbits about 400 km (250 miles) above Earth. The spacecraft is expected to dock with the ISS for eight days and then return two astronauts safely to Earth.

The launch of the spacecraft on Wednesday came after years of technical issues, delays and a successful test mission in 2022 to an orbital laboratory with no astronauts.

Boeing plans to use NASA funding to seed Starliner, the capsule that will compete with SpaceX Crew Dragon. Since 2020, SpaceX has been the only vehicle used by NASA to send ISS crew to orbit from U.S. territory. This mission is a necessary test flight before NASA can certify Starliner to be used for astronaut missions.

Wilmore, Wilmore is a retired U.S. Navy fighter pilot and captain. Williams, who has more than 30 years of experience as a Navy helicopter test pilot, is a veteran NASA astronaut.

Boeing’s $4.2 billion contract with NASA to provide two separate U.S. flights to the ISS has made it a difficult process to get Starliner this far. NASA wants to ensure that the Starliner is redundant. The Starliner has been several years late and is more than $1.5billion over budget. Boeing’s commercial aircraft operations are being rocked by the crisis involving its 737 MAX planes.

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