Watch Boeing launch its first astronaut mission for NASA (2024)

After years of delays, Boeing has finally launched its first NASA mission carrying two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

At 10:52 ET (15:52 BST) on Wednesday, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner took off fromCape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The shuttle, and astronautsButch Wilmore and Suni Williams, are expected to arrive at 12:15 ET (17:15 BST) on Thursday after a 25-hour flight.

If successful, this test flight will give NASA a second commercial shuttle alongside the SpaceX Dragon and end Boeing's run of failed launches.

But while the capsule has completed its initial tests, NASA now saysthe craft has sprung two unexpected helium leaks since entering orbit.

After years of delays, Boeing's Starliner has finally launched on its first NASA mission carrying two astronauts to the ISS

Shortly before the astronauts (pictured) were scheduled to sleep mission control informed them that there another helium leak had been detected on the shuttle

Read More Boeing's problem-plagued Starliner strikes again: Launch to the ISS is called off with less than two hours left due to a rocket glitch

Starliner was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket, marking the first time that ULA has launched a crewed mission.

The rocket used its primary booster for just over four minutes to get Starliner into the air before jettisoning the bottom section and switching to a second stage.

After 12 minutes of burn-time to get the capsule into orbit, the rocket then detached, leaving Starliner to navigate using its own thrusters.

As part of the test flight, the crew also carried out around two hours of 'free flight' time to test the Starliner's manual controls.

Starliner was spun around in orbit to test the solar panels, communications devices, and star trackers which are used for emergency navigation.

However, the capsule's automatic navigation systems mean that Wilmore and Williams will now function largely as passengers for the majority of their flight.

At 10:52 ET (15:52 BST) the Boeing CST-100 Starliner took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida

Boeing launched its very first astronauts bound for the International Space Station aboard a Starliner capsule, which joins a select club of spacecraft to carry humans beyond Earth

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is pictured approaching the ISS in May 2022, during 'Orbital Flight Test 2' (no humans on board)

Boeing's Starliner: Key specs

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After docking with the ISS and delivering 139 kg (307lbs) of supplies for NASA, the pair will spend a little more than a week aboard the station.

The capsule is scheduled to return to Earth in a remote desert area of the US on June 14.

But while the initial tests have been successful, NASA now reports that Starliner has developed three helium leaks.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, NASA wrote: 'Teams have identified three helium leaks on the spacecraft.

One of these leaks had been identified on the ground but mission control determined that the shuttle was still safe to fly.

As the Wilmore and Williams were preparing to sleep, mission control told the astronauts that that it 'looks like we picked up a couple more helium leaks.'

'We are ready to…find out exactly what you mean by "picked up another helium leak", so give it to us,' Wilmore replied.

Boeing said in a statement: 'Helium is used in spacecraft thruster systems to allow the thrusters to fire and is not combustible or toxic.'

The capsule was launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA)Atlas-V rocket. This is the first time that a ULA rocket has carried a crew to space

Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will be transported to International Space Station (ISS) and spend about a week there before heading home

'Boeing Crew Flight Test' - a long-awaited milestone - is the first launch of Starliner that contains astronauts

Read More Boeing to launch rocket - despite warning from NASA contractor

However, mission control responded that they were 'still getting the story together.'

NASA has since determined that the crew is safe and the astronauts continued to sleep as scheduled.

Boeing aerospace engineer Brandon Burroughs said on the NASA broadcast: 'We have a lot of smart people down here on the ground that are going to take a look at this stuff and keep an eye on it, but the vehicle is in a configuration right now where they’re safe to fly.'

It is not clear whether these leaks will lead to any serious issues but it appears that Starliner is still on track to dock with the ISS later on Thursday.

The launch comes more than a decade since Boeing was first awarded the $4.2 billion contract to develop the Starliner capsule and seven years since its intended launch.

Aboard the shuttle were veteran NASA astronauts Suni Williams (left) and commander Butch Wilmore (right)

This is the third time in a month that the two astronauts have attempted to launch aboard the Starliner, with two earlier attempts called off shortly before takeoff

Boeing's Starliner launches

December 2019First uncrewed flight. Reached orbit but failed to dock with ISS

May 2022Second uncrewed flight. Successfully docked with ISS

June 2024First crewed flight to ISS

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An attempt on May 6 was called off just two hours before launch due to an audible 'buzzing' caused by valve issues.

Another launch attempt last Saturday was halted with less than four minutes to go due to a technical glitch with a launchpad computer.

If the craft safely returns to Earth, this will mark a significant step forward for Boeing's ambition in the commercial space sector and put pressure on rival SpaceX.

The launch's success will also come as relief for NASA who are increasingly relying on commercial providers for travel into space.

After NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis was retired in 2011, the American space agency was forced to pay around$80m (£64m) for a seat in a Russian Soyuz capsule to reach the ISS.

But after 13 years, NASA'sCommercial Crew Program (CCP) could finally have two different options to send astronauts to the ISS.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told a post-launch press conference that this wasanother milestone in this extraordinary history of NASA'.

Mr Nelson added: 'With Dragon and Starliner, the US is going to have two unique human space transportation systems. We always like to have a backup that makes it safer for our astronauts.'

A helium leak had been detected on the ground before launch but it was deemed that the mission was still safe to go ahead

The Starliner can carry a maximum of seven astronauts and can be re-used up to ten times after being refurbished between launches

Read More America's first black astronaut aged 90 finally goes to space

In a brief speech moments before takeoff, Wilmore thanked those who had worked to make the mission possible and alluded to the project's tumultuous progress.

He said: 'We all know that when the going gets tough, and it often does, the tough get going, and Suni and I are honoured to share this dream of spaceflight with each and every one of you.'

NASA has already ordered six more astronaut rotation flights to the space station as part of the CCP.

The Starliner itself also represents significant advancements in shuttle technology.

Using a 'weldless' design the CST-100 (which stands for Crew Space Transportation) should reduce the risk of structural failure.

Although it will typically transport four passengers the Starliner can take up to seven astronauts and can be reused up to ten times with six months of refurbishment between flights.

Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, says: 'Everyone is focused on giving Suni and Butch a safe, comfortable ride and performing a successful test mission from start to finish.'

Famous for manufacturing commercial airplanes, Boeing has been under heavy scrutiny in recent months after a chunk of fuselage blew outof one of its new 737s.

The firm has been blocked from increasing production of the plane as it addresses ongoing safety issues.

It seems some experts were concerned about Starliner too, as one NASA contractor has warned the mission could be 'catastrophic'on the basis that the craft has sprung a leak.


The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.

Crews have come mainly from the US and Russia, but the Japanese space agency JAXA and European space agency ESA have also sent astronauts.

The International Space Station has been continuously occupied for more than 20 years and has been expended with multiple new modules added and upgrades to systems

Research conducted aboard theISSoften requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.

ISS studies have investigatedhuman research,space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.

The US space agency, NASA, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, with the remaining funding coming from international partners, including Europe, Russia and Japan.

So far244 individuals from 19 countries have visited the station, and among them eight private citizens who spent up to $50 million for their visit.

There is an ongoing debate about the future of the station beyond 2025, when it is thought some of the original structure will reach 'end of life'.

Russia, a major partner in the station, plans to launch its own orbital platform around then, with Axiom Space, a private firm, planning to send its own modules for purely commercial use to the station at the same time.

NASA, ESA, JAXA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are working together to build a space station in orbit around the moon, and Russia and China are working on a similar project, that would also include a base on the surface.

Watch Boeing launch its first astronaut mission for NASA (2024)


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