Boeing's Starliner Capsule Successfully Docks with ISS, Marks Significant Milestone

Boeing's Starliner Capsule Successfully Docks with ISS, Marks Significant Milestone

Washington D.C. -  Boeing's new Starliner capsule, carrying a NASA crew, successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, demonstrating its flight-worthiness and intensifying its competition with Elon Musk's SpaceX. Despite facing technical challenges, the mission was deemed successful.

The CST-100 Starliner, with astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Sunita "Suni" Williams on board, reached the ISS after a 27-hour journey from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The capsule, named "Calypso" by its crew, was launched atop an Atlas V rocket provided by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, United Launch Alliance.

The capsule autonomously docked with the ISS while orbiting 250 miles (400 km) above the southern Indian Ocean at 1:34 p.m. EDT (1734 GMT), traveling at 17,500 miles (28,160 km) per hour. This achievement followed a brief period where Wilmore manually controlled the spacecraft. "Nice to be attached to the big city in the sky," Wilmore radioed to mission control in Houston post-docking.

Onboard Activities and Welcome Ceremony
After docking, Wilmore, 58, and Williams, 61, conducted standard procedures, including airlock leak checks and pressurization of the passage between the capsule and the ISS. The astronauts then floated headfirst into the ISS, greeted warmly by the station's seven-member crew, comprising four U.S. astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts.

"We're just as happy as can be to be up in space," Williams said during a brief welcoming ceremony.

During the journey, helium leaks were detected in the capsule's propulsion system, disabling some of the 28 thrusters used for precision maneuvers. However, NASA and Boeing reported that enough thrusters remained functional to ensure a safe docking. An additional thruster was turned off by mission control before the final approach.

The successful launch followed years of technical issues, delays, and a previous uncrewed test mission in 2022. Initial crewed launch attempts were postponed due to last-minute glitches, including a helium leak that was later deemed not severe enough to require mechanical fixes.

Boeing developed Starliner under a $4.2 billion fixed-price contract with NASA, aiming to provide an alternative to SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, which has been the only vehicle for sending ISS crew members to orbit from American soil since 2020. This mission marks Starliner's first test flight with astronauts, a necessary step before NASA can certify the capsule for regular missions.

Selected for this pivotal mission were NASA veterans Wilmore, a retired Navy captain and fighter pilot, and Williams, a former Navy helicopter test pilot with experience flying more than 30 different aircraft. Combined, they have logged 500 days in space.

The Starliner program has faced significant delays and budget overruns, being several years behind schedule and over $1.5 billion over budget. Concurrently, Boeing's commercial airplane manufacturing operations have dealt with crises involving its 737 MAX jetliners.

Wilmore and Williams are scheduled to remain aboard the ISS for about eight days before returning to Earth. Their journey back will involve a reentry through the atmosphere and a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the U.S. Desert Southwest, marking a first for a crewed NASA mission.

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