Astronauts Give Tick of Approval for Boeing’s Starliner Spacecraft


NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams have spoken about what it was like being on the first crewed CST-100 Starliner launch. The duo talked to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy from the International Space Station early on June 11, 2024 (AEDT).

After several delays, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, late in the evening of June 5 (AEDT), powered by a United Launch Alliance Altas V rocket. After separation, Starliner successfully docked at the ISS the following day.
“It was one extraordinary event after the other,” said Wilmore. “It was the first time back in space for the both of us in quite some time.”

Both astronauts remarked on the differences between the many simulation exercises in the lead-up to the launch and the actual event itself.

“Simulators are typically not as precise as an aircraft, and that is the case with Starliner,” said Wilmore. “The simulator is a great simulator, but the spacecraft was more precise than I expected. We could have stopped on a dime and put it (Starliner) exactly where we wanted, and it would have stayed there.”

“This is a test mission. In every single phase and moment, we are in evaluation mode, and the initial control both of us got was amazing. It was a thrill to finally do it after being in the simulator so long.”

The initial success of the mission and the positive feedback will be welcome news to NASA and Boeing. The aerospace manufacturer, which is trying to develop a commercial competitor to SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, has faced production issues, delays, and more than USD1 billion in cost overruns. Starliner had launched before, but this was the first crewed launch. It was also the first time United Launch Alliance used its Atlas V rocket to send humans into space.

“That spacecraft flies so smoothly,” said Williams, who added that several other spacecraft were also docked at the ISS, SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter, and the Soyuz MS-25 crew ship. “It’s pretty spectacular, all the different spacecraft that are here,” she said. “It’s fun to sit around the dinner table and talk about how the different spacecraft are controlled. It’s a unique venue, with five different spacecraft all in one place.”

Despite their training and previous flight experience, both astronauts said what they were experiencing was new. “Even though the space station is familiar, there have been so many improvements over the past few years,” said Williams. “It’s incredible. There is always something new to explore.”

“I just do what I can while I’m here and enjoy myself,” said Wilmore. “Stuff I can’t do on Earth, we’re taking full advantage of that.”

Coinciding with the phone hookup, NASA announced that Wilmore and Williams’s planned week-long stay on the ISS would be extended through June 18. NASA says the additional time in orbit will allow the crew to perform a spacewalk on June 13 while engineers complete a Starliner systems checkout.


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