Boeing Starliner spacecraft rolls out to Atlas V rocket ahead of 1st astronaut launch (photos)

Boeing Starliner spacecraft rolls out to Atlas V rocket ahead of 1st astronaut launch (photos)
a cone-shaped spacecraft on a truck going by a large building with a nasa building on the side. the scene is at night

Boeing Starliner for Crew Flight Test rolls past the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 16, 2024.
(Image credit: Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images)

Boeing’s first Starliner spacecraft for astronauts made a short road trip today (April 16) ahead of its expected launch in early May.

Starliner rolled out on a trailer towards its United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket around 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) in preparation for its International Space Station (ISS) mission no earlier than May 6. Onboard the mission, known as Crew Flight Test (CFT), will be two veteran NASA astronauts and former Navy test pilots: commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams.

Early this morning, Boeing rolled out of the commercial crew and cargo processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) near Orlando, Florida to begin a 6-mile (10-kilometer) journey towards its Atlas V rocket in a separate building. Several astronauts were on hand to witness the historic journey. 

Related: I flew Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft in 4 different simulators. Here’s what I learned (video, photos)

Starliner’s destination was ULA’s vertical integration facility, also at KSC, where the Atlas V rocket is accomplocated. Boeing Space announced on X, formerly Twitter, that rocket and spacecraft were successfully integrated in a post at 11:46 a.m. EDT (1546 GMT).

“Functionally, this rollout was similar in nature to previous rollouts,” Amanda Ireland, Boeing’s spacecraft liaison, said in a company statement, including “treating the spacecraft with the greatest care and detail.” 

Once stacking is complete and communications verified between rocket and spacecraft, the vehicles will be rolled out together to the launch pad at KSC.

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a cone-shaped spacecraft in the dark in front of a building. the spacecraft is on a trailer with lights shining in the dark. in the background, in shadow, is a building with an illustration of starliner on the side

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft rolls out of the commercial crew and cargo processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Florida on April 16, 2024. (Image credit: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

The upcoming roughly week-long CFT mission Starliner will run to the ISS aims to test out all major systems with astronauts on board. CFT follows two uncrewed flights by Starliner: A 2019 flight that did not reach the ISS as planned, and a 2022 attempt (following numerous changes to Starliner) that reached the ISS and met all other major flight objectives.

Crews for both CFT and the first operational six-month ISS mission in 2025 were on hand to watch the Starliner rollout. 

Astronauts for that first operational mission, known as Starliner-1, include NASA’s Scott Tingle, NASA’s Mike Fincke and the Canadian Space Agency’s Joshua Kutryk. Also present at the rollout was Kimiya Yui, an astronaut from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA, who is unassigned for a spaceflight so far.

two astronauts in flight suits in the dark. the one on the right flashes a thumbs-up. far in the background is a cone-shaped spacecraft on a trailer, in front of buildings

Crew Flight Test NASA astronauts Suni Williams (left) and Butch Wilmore in front of their Boeing Starliner spacecraft. Starliner was rolling between buildings at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 16, 2024 to prepare for launch. (Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Image)

Astronauts Butch Wilmore, @Astro_Suni, @AstroIronMike, @Astro_Kutryk, @Astro_Maker1 and @Astro_Kimiya are here to see the #Starliner spacecraft off. 16, 2024

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CFT has been delayed by several years in sending crews to the ISS due to numerous technical problems, including more uncovered in 2023. The suspension lines of Starliner’s main parachutes could handle less load than engineers thought, and the capsule’s wiring was largely made up of flammable P213 tape.

a lit-up rocket inside a tall building. a cone-shaped spacecraft sits on a trailer in front. surrounding the area is darkness

The Atlas V for Boeing Starliner awaiting the spacecraft, as it is shipped there on April 16, inside United Launch Alliance’s vertical integration facility. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

Boeing and NASA, alongside Starliner astronauts, emphasize that past issues are behind them and that Starliner is ready to bear crews. CFT will be a major checkout of all systems to certify Starliner for longer missions, six months or more, for standard ISS crew changeouts.

Boeing and SpaceX received contracts from NASA in 2014 for commercial crew missions to the ISS. Boeing’s contract for the Starliner is valued at $4.2 billion, compared to SpaceX’s $2.6 billion. 

SpaceX began operational astronaut missions with Crew Dragon in 2020 and has so far brought 11 crews to ISS: Eight led by NASA and three on behalf of Axiom Space, a Houston company that runs approximately two-week ISS science excursions with a retired NASA astronaut at the helm. 

Between the space shuttle‘s retirement in 2011 and the first operational commercial crew flights of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, NASA flew all astronauts to the ISS aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. The agency continues to send some astronauts on Soyuz for technical and policy reasons. 

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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth’s reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, “Why Am I Taller?”, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada’s Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada’s Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada’s Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon:

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