Inaugural crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner

After years of delays and a dizzying array of setbacks during test flights, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is finally set to make its inaugural crewed launch. The mission is at last closing in on its historic astronaut launch attempt, with NASA officials giving the green light for liftoff at 10:34 p.m. ET Monday. Starliner will carry NASA’s Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the International Space Station, marking what could be a momentous and long-awaited victory for the beleaguered Boeing program.

“Design and development is hard — particularly with a human space vehicle,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and Starliner program manager at Boeing, during a Thursday news briefing. “There’s a number of things that were surprises along the way that we had to overcome. … It certainly made the team very, very strong. I’m very proud of how they’ve overcome every single issue that we’ve encountered and gotten us to this point.”

If successful, the Starliner will join SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in making routine trips to the space station, keeping the orbiting outpost fully staffed with astronauts from NASA and its partner space agencies.

Comment: This has been a long time coming for both Boeing and NASA. I wish them well, especially the two astronauts who probably had at least a passing thought about going up in a spacecraft built by Boeing. NASA is quick to point out that Boeing Spacecraft is a totally different entity from Boeing Aircraft, but it will surely be the source of some dark humor.

SpaceX is also scheduled to launch a Starlink mission from Cape Canaveral today. Unlike the Starliner launch, Starlink missions have become routine. But I am looking forward to the next Starship launch. That’s going to be exciting no matter how it turns out.

I also saw a nice little story about the Mars Ingenuity helicopter yesterday on CBS Sunday Morning. I was surprised to see how that project was treated like a red headed step child by the NASA Perseverance team. It’s worth a look.


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12 Responses to Inaugural crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner

  1. Lars says:

    After watching numerous launches here for 26 years, I am somewhat skeptical that it will go off as scheduled. New programs seldom do. I do hope they will however. That program has been beset with a lot of problems. They could use some success. As an aside, we recently lost our neighbor Tom Stafford. He had a long career as an astronaut and accomplished a lot too. He was a great guy.

    • ked says:

      Stafford’s life & career trajectory comprise an American Ideal made real. His wiki bio just touches the dramatic, historic high points – & it is amazing.

      note how many serious technical issues arose in those early days of manned flight. indeed, manned space exploration is a “close run thing” – even today. the highly successful operation of the ISS over nearly a quarter century is testimony to US technical leadership. {I admit some bias, given I watched Shepard’s Redstone-Mercury launch live on an airbase elementary school TV, thanks to my Dad’s (also OK born) career as a fighter pilot.}

  2. Keith Harbaugh says:

    A couple of articles on Starliner:

    With Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft finally due to take flight this week with astronauts on board, we know the extent of the loss, both in time and money.
    Dragon first carried people to the space station nearly four years ago.
    In that span, the Crew Dragon vehicle has flown thirteen public and private missions to orbit.
    Because of this success, Dragon will end up flying 14 operational missions to the station for NASA, earning a tidy fee each time, compared to just six for Starliner.
    Through last year, Boeing has taken $1.5 billion in charges due to delays and overruns with its spacecraft development.

    If you want to know what it’s like to take a new spacecraft on its first test run in orbit,
    there are only three people in the Western world you can call.

    That fact should drive home the rarity of debuting a new human-rated spaceship.
    When Boeing’s Starliner capsule lifts off Monday night, this group of three will grow to five.
    Veteran NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, both former US Navy test pilots, will be at the controls of Starliner for the ride into low-Earth orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

    • ked says:

      Eric Berger (of Arstechnica) is a great writer on space issues. the commentary to his articles include knowledgeable insiders to boot (as Col Lang attracted here too). my particular favorite observation among the comments: “Essentially, then, Boeing kept carrying technical debt forward so that additional work was lumped onto the final milestones.” this probably resonates w/ anyone who spent time dealing w/ LSIs in defense acquisition.

  3. babelthuap says:

    I hope China or Russia beats us to Mars. Establish with the first landing antisemitic laws do not apply.

    • TTG says:


      I don’t understand what you’re trying to say, but China will definitely give us a run for our money in space exploration. they’re moving fast.

  4. egl says:

    Also fascinating: the Ingenuity helicopter used COTS electronics, not the expected RAD-hard stuff.

  5. Lars says:

    I question the ability of Russia or China to be able to compete with the US in future space endeavors. The reason is demographics. Those huddled masses. yearning to breathe free will not even try to go there. Eventually, the immigration system in the US will be solved. It has several times in the past, just as it has been dysfunctional in the past. They may have some limited successes now and then, but getting to Mars will be extraordinary complex, not to mention expensive. It will make the Manhattan project look like putting on a county fair.

    • d74 says:

      Yes, you’re right. They’re too technologically backward. Their handicaps are too great. Plus, their population will decline before they can even catch up with the stakes on one side and the U.S. on the other.

      And then there’s something more intangible. Mars belongs to the USA, at least morally. If the US goes to Mars, it’s for a good cause and with good intentions. But what about them? What are they going to do there, except screw things up? Plant the flag and leave a goddamn mess.

      Given the sorry state of international organizations, we can’t count on them to issue a Mars ban for these two countries.
      So, for the sake of humanity, the US must pull out all the stops and be the first. They’ve already done it for the Moon, just do it again.

    • voislav says:

      And US huddled masses are just itching to go 🙂 China already had 25% higher GDP adjusted for purchasing power and has debt to GDP of less than 20%. They also have unified leadership that can finance the project.

      Can you imagine US doing the same? Cutting military spending to finance mission to Mars? Taking money from Boeing, Lockheed and Raytheon to give it to SpaceX?

  6. Lars says:

    Any mission to Mars is decades in the future and I am not convinced that either Russia, nor China will be the same countries by then. Their type of political leadership is too fragile and can easily become undone. While the US currently has some similar problems, it is still by far much more stable, as has been proven in the past. Both Russia and China faced revolutions. The US has not, even if a successful insurrection was mislabeled as such. In their cases, one group of people replaced another, but the system did not change that much and it was certainly not democratic. Top down systems eventually reach a level where they cannot go any further up because the repression to keep it going becomes unsustainable. I realize the urge to badmouth the US is pervasive, but you still need to contemplate the choices and as I have stated, this is not the first rodeo.

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