NASA selects astronauts to fly on first crewed Starliner test flight

NASA astronauts Suni Williams, left, Barry "Mannish" Wilmore, center, and Mike Fincke, right, watch as a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on board rolls out of the Vertical Integration Facility toward the Space Launch Complex launch pad 41 before Orbital Flight Test -2 (OFT-2), Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Ahead of the first crewed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner, NASA has chosen two astronauts to fly aboard the struggling spacecraft, in a mission that could launch later this year.

Friday, NASA announcement that veteran astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will fly aboard the Crew Flight Test (CFT), whose launch date will be determined in late July, according to the space agency. Following the completion of Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) in May, which launched the spacecraft to the ISS and back, Boeing is ready to test Starliner with a two-person crew strapped inside.

These tests are crucial for Boeing $4.3 billion contract with NASA Commercial Crew Program, which, if all goes well, will ferry astronauts to the ISS via a CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. But OFT-2 suffered from a few hiccups, including the failure of a thruster used for orbital maneuverswithout forgetting the many problems and delays who tainted the program. Yet NASA appears determined to follow through on Boeing’s Starliner, despite purchasing five more missions from SpaceX, the agency’s other business partner, which has been ferrying astronauts to the ISS since 2020.

For the first CFT, Wilmore, who spent six months on the ISS from 2014 to 2015, will command the mission, while Williams, who served on two long-duration ISS missions from 2006 to 2007 and again in 2012, will fly Boeing’s reusable capsule. NASA had to revamp its inaugural Starliner crew, replacing NASA astronaut Nicole Mann with Williams. Mann was instead assigned to SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission, which is scheduled to launch in September. NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who was previously assigned as Joint Operations Commander for CFT, will now train as a backup pilot for the first CFT mission.

“Based on current space station resources and planning needs, a short-duration mission with two astronaut test pilots is sufficient to meet all NASA and Boeing test goals for CFT, which include demonstrating Starliner’s ability to safely conduct crewed operational missions to and from the space station,” NASA wrote in a statement.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. If all goes well, NASA could certify Starliner for regular, long-duration crewed missions to the ISS.

After: Our first look at Boeing’s next Starliner spacesuit

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