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Boeing Starliner: First crewed launch is headed for International Space Station

Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 5

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Boeing has successfully launched its Starliner spacecraft with a crew on board for the first time, on the third attempt. The historic launch means NASA now has two commercial options for taking astronauts to space: Boeing and SpaceX.

Starliner launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop an Atlas V rocket on June 5 at 10:52 a.m. local time after years of delay. A crewed launch was originally planned for late 2017, but the schedule was slower than expected. This mission was finally scheduled to take off in May, but a faulty valve forced NASA to abort the mission. A second launch attempt on June 1 was scrapped due to computer problems.

But the third launch, a few days later, was a success and the capsule reached orbit as planned. On board were NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, who will travel to the International Space Station for 24 hours and stay for about a week while testing various systems, before returning to Earth in the same spacecraft.

This particular capsule was named Calypso, supposedly after Jacques Cousteau’s oceanographic ship. The goal of the mission is to verify that Starliner is safe for crew transportation to and from the ISS. If those tests are a success and the two astronauts return safely to Earth on Starliner, then similar spacecraft can begin annual manned flights to the space station.

Each Starliner is designed to last up to 10 return flights and can carry up to seven people per flight. However, standard operational flights are likely to carry only three or four astronauts.

NASA awarded two shuttle contracts a decade ago to transport crews to the International Space Station: one to Boeing for its Starliner and another to SpaceX for its Dragon capsule. Dragon moved ahead of Starliner by making its first crewed flight in 2020.

Starliner is now the sixth orbital spacecraft in U.S. history to make a crew launch, preceded by Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the space shuttle and Dragon.

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