Boeing's Starliner makes it into orbit at long last – with human crew aboard

Let's get that brave duo to the ISS and then home to Earth safely

Boeing's NASA-backed Starliner crew capsule, at long last, successfully blasted off from a Florida launch pad today with two brave humans onboard.

This comes after years of delays over faults that have left the US aerospace giant Boeing lagging well behind Elon Musk's SpaceX.

The Starliner manned spacecraft launched into Earth's orbit from Cape Canaveral at 1452 UTC, ending a lengthy run of unfortunate events that had resulted in repeated delays before liftoff. You can replay the whole thing below; the one-minute countdown to blast off starts at the 4 hour, 9 minute, 16 second mark.

Youtube Video

While the mission is far from over, as the crew needs to eventually make it back to Earth in one piece, it's quite a relief to see the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket soar into the sky carrying the Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS). That alliance being a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Previous Starliner launch attempts were scrubbed, first due to a valve issue with the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage and then due to a power supply problem with one of the ground computers. If today had required another scrub, there would have been an opportunity tomorrow, after which the Atlas V would require a few weeks to switch out batteries.

It has been a long journey to space for the Starliner crew, figuratively speaking. The first non-crewed launch of the spacecraft ended with the capsule being unable to reach the ISS and a near catastrophe during rocket separation.

The first attempt went so badly in fact that Boeing was forced to try again and launch a second non-crewed test, which fared somewhat better. However, there was still a lengthy delay between that launch and this first mission with humans onboard, as issues continued to crop up.

In the meantime, Boeing's rival SpaceX has continued to launch mission after mission with its Crew Dragon capsule, which first delivered astronauts to the ISS four years ago.

At the time of writing, the Starliner spacecraft, carrying veteran astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore, had performed a successful orbit insertion burn. Rendezvous with the ISS is expected at around 1615 UTC on June 6, all going well.

The crew has a few more tasks to perform before hitting the sack for a period, including checking out the manual controls of the Starliner. The mission is expected to last a week before the spacecraft, dubbed Calypso, returns to Earth. If all goes well, the first operational mission, which will carry a crew of four to the ISS, should launch in early 2025.

And no, we won't be retiring the Calamity Capsule nickname until the crew is safely back on Earth. But considering how smoothly things have gone so far, perhaps it won't be long now. ®

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