Boeing’s first Starliner capsule for the International Space Station is officially open to astronauts living aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The Commercial starliner spaceship, that arrived friday on an uncrewed test flight to the station, it was opened by NASA astronaut Robert Hines at 12:04 pm EDT (1604 GMT) to begin about five days of capsule testing. It’s a major milestone for Boeing and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which chose Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts to the International Space Station in 2014.
“This is the day they imagined, where we have three human-classified vehicles docked to the space station right now,” Hines said, referring to the Starliner, the Crew Dragon and the Russian Soyuz capsule. “So this is an important day in NASA history and just paving the way for the future as we begin to allow commercial flights here in low Earth orbit as NASA visits the Moon and eventually Mars.”
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SpaceX has performed five astronaut flights for NASA since May 2020, but Boeing’s Starliner has taken a rockier road.
Starliner was unable to reach the ISS during the first OFT in December 2019 due to software glitchesand then had its second attempt erased hours before liftoff in August 2021 after the mission team discovered stuck valves in the capsule’s propulsion system. These issues did not resurface for Starliner’s current test flight, called Orbital Flight Test-2. (OFT-2). (Although there were some minor failures in the impeller and cooling system and a slight delay during docking.)
“These are the kinds of things we look forward to in flight testing and that’s why we test,” Hines said Saturday. “If we don’t find something like this, we’re probably doing something wrong.”
The thruster malfunction shortly after Thursday’s launch does not appear to be related to previous problems the vehicle has experienced. At a post-launch press conference Thursday night, NASA and Boeing representatives doubled down on their confidence in Starliner to complete its mission, regardless of new thruster issues.
“The system was designed to be redundant and it worked as it was supposed to,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program.
The Starliner spent Thursday night chasing the orbital lab and began performing encounter test maneuvers shortly after 3:30 pm EDT (1930 GMT) on Friday. Before moving to the dock, the capsule successfully demonstrated its ability to stop on command, as well as move away from the station in an emergency.
Satisfied with the results, Boeing flight operators instructed the Starliner to begin docking procedures, and the vehicle began its slow progression towards the station’s Harmony module. At 8:28 pm EDT on Friday (0028 GMT on May 21), Starliner officially docked with the International Space Station.
Over the next few days, crew aboard the orbiting laboratory will empty the Starliner of 500 pounds (226 kg) of supplies and provisions, then pack its hull with nearly 600 pounds (270 kg) of cargo marked to return to Earth.
Staying aboard the Starliner will be Boeing’s test dummy, affectionately nicknamed Rosie the Rocketeer, in honor of the Rosie the Riveter of WWII-era fame. Dressed in one of Boeing’s blue spacesuits, Rosie will be strapped into the Starliner’s command seat for the trip back to Earth.
Sensors on Rosie were used to measure G-forces experienced in the body during the Strainer’s first test flight. On the OFT-2, sensors are now being used to measure the effects of these same forces on the Starliner’s seats during reentry and landing. The Starliner is scheduled to return to Earth after a four to five day stay on the space station, a timeline largely dictated by the weather at the vehicle’s possible landing sites in the western United States.
Boeing also added a little more fun to Starliner’s trip to the space station in the form of a plush toy of Jebediah “Jeb” Kerman, a Kerbonaut from the space exploration game Kerbal Space Program, which Boeing used as a zero-point indicator. g to show when the capsule hit space.
Editor’s Note: This story, initially published at 6 am EDT, was updated at 2 pm ET with details of the astronauts opening the Starliner hatch.
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