A first Starliner manned flight in May

NASA gave the green light to the first manned flight of the capsule on Thursday Starliner from Boeing, May 6. Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk will supervise it from Houston. Boeing’s problems with its airliners are raising many doubts about Starliner.

Starliner has nothing to do with Boeing’s current problems,” replied astronaut Butch Wilmore during a press conference Thursday noon upon his arrival by T-38 plane at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA’s No. 2, Jim Free, and Flight Director Emily Nelson had the same answer to the same question during a late afternoon telephone press conference.

Mr. Wilmore will fly with Suni Williams. Both are US Navy pilots.

If its manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) is a success, Starliner will take Mr. Kutryk in early 2025 to a six-month mission to the ISS.


Joshua Kutryk

The Boeing capsule competed with the Crew Dragon of SpaceX when NASA awarded contracts worth a total of more than US$7 billion to the two companies in 2014 to develop means of transportation for its astronauts. After the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA depended on Russian capsules Soyuz to get to the ISS.

The suspense lasted until May 2020, when SpaceX achieved its first manned flight. Boeing almost crossed the finish line first, but experienced clock problems during its unmanned test in December 2019. The company had just seen its 737 Max grounded after two crashes. The problems of Starlinerwhich had to make another unmanned test flight, in 2022, were also at the time juxtaposed with those of Boeing airliners.

Dragon Crew already has a dozen manned flights to the ISS to its credit. SpaceX notably transported private missions from the company Axiom.


The two press conferences raised many more questions about disaster scenarios. Steve Stich, director of NASA’s commercial human spaceflight program, had to detail the problems of Starliner on which the agency is still working. An oxygen valve needs to be replaced and tested and doubts remain about what would happen if one of the two pilot parachutes Starliner did not deploy correctly upon re-entry into the atmosphere.

Earlier in the day, Butch Wilmore was more combative in the face of journalists’ doubts. “During our last simulation on Monday, we did a scenario of aborting the mission before arriving in orbit. All we had to do was press a button to choose to land in Ireland. We added another glitch, we had to do certain maneuvers manually. And still, we landed less than 200 meters from the planned location in Ireland. There is no capsule in the world that has more redundancy. »


Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore during a Starliner simulation in 2022

Suni Williams added that Starliner was very similar to the lunar capsule Orion. “If I were a young astronaut with the ambition of going to the Moon, I would want to fly on Starliner “, said M.me Williams.

Mr. Wilmore was equally enthusiastic about the rocket Atlas V of the company United Launch Alliance, which will bring Starliner into orbit on May 6. The last manned flight of an Atlas rocket was in 1962. “There is no other expendable rocket that I trust more,” Wilmore said. Atlas V has an early problem detection system that can save lives. »


During its journey to the ISS, Starliner will make several attempts at last minute interruptions, particularly when docking with the ISS. Mme Williams and Mr. Wilmore will stay on the station for a week before returning to Earth. Emergency manual return tests will be carried out during reentry into the atmosphere.

A dozen thefts of Starliner to the ISS are planned until 2030, in particular with cosmonauts until 2028, the year when Russia should withdraw from the international program. Boeing incurred cost overruns of more than US$1 billion in the Starliner program, leading to Washington Post last fall to predict that Starliner would not be profitable after the end of NASA’s contracts to the ISS.

NASA’s commercial contracts with SpaceX and Boeing have cut the costs of sending an astronaut to the ISS in half, compared to the Space Shuttle. To use Soyuz cost slightly less, 80 million US per astronaut compared to 88 million US for Dragon Crew.

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  • 280
    Number of astronauts who have stayed on the ISS since 2001

    Source: NASA

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