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Boeing Starliner’s Debut Crew Launch Now Rescheduled For June: Why Is This Mission Immensely Significant?

"Liftoff is scheduled for 12:25 p.m. Saturday, June 1, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida." - Nasa

The first crewed launch of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Barry Wilmore on board, was originally scheduled for May 7 but was pushed back due to a helium leak on the Starliner's service module. Now, after successive delays, the mission is planned for launch on June 1, 2024. Notably, NASA, Boeing, and ULA will participate in a Delta-Agency Flight Test Readiness Review on May 29 to examine the work performed since the last launch attempt. And as you may know, it is the final test mission before NASA can certify the spacecraft for routine astronaut trips to and from the space station.

Notably, a small helium leak was detected in the spacecraft's propulsion system just a couple of hours before it was due to lift off from Florida. Boeing later said in its statement that the valve was successfully replaced on May 11 and tested to confirm it was working perfectly. The mission then underwent several rescheduling attempts, first scheduled for May 17, then May 21, and subsequently, May 25, before finally being confirmed for June.

Spacecraft commander Barry Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams 

This is Boeing's first Starliner spacecraft mission with a human crew and is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. While all the eyes are on the mission, let's learn why it's immensely significant.

What Is Boeing’s Starliner?

Officially called CST (crew space transportation) - 100, the Starliner is a partially reusable crew capsule that is 5 m tall and 4.6 m wide.

The spacecraft consists of two modules. One is the crew module which can accommodate up to seven astronauts and can be reused up to 10 times (with a six-month turnaround). The other one is the service module which supplies electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air, and water.

About The Mission

The Starliner spacecraft will be launched on an Atlas V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be carrying two NASA astronauts, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, and Sunita Williams.

And the main objective of the mission is to see "how Starliner performs in space with a crew onboard".

Steve Stich, the manager of the NASA Commercial Crew Program, shared in one of his recent statements, "There has been a great deal of exceptional analysis and testing over the last two weeks by the joint NASA, Boeing, and ULA teams to replace the Centaur Self Regulating Valve and troubleshoot the Starliner Service Module helium manifold leak. It has been important that we take our time to understand all the complexities of each issue including the redundant capabilities of the Starliner propulsion system and any implications to our Interim Human Rating Certification." 

Now, Why Is The Mission Immensely Significant?

According to experts, this space mission is immensely significant for both NASA and Boeing. As already mentioned, it is the final test mission before NASA can certify the spacecraft for regular astronaut trips to and from the space station. 

Notably, NASA currently relies solely on SpaceX to take its astronauts and cargo to the ISS. If Starliner becomes successful, it will emerge as a backup option for NASA. On the other hand, the mission's success will help Boeing to become a leader in the space arena.

Well, the success of this mission is highly anticipated as it will help reshape the ongoing research surrounding space exploration. Let's hope for the best!