Boeing’s Starliner Spacecraft Launch Aborted Yet Again

Starliner liftoff on a ULA Atlas V Centaur rocket

Starliner soared into the sky propelled by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V Centaur rocket.Photo Credit: Aubrey Gemignani / NASA via Getty Images

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft faced a setback on Saturday, marking its second unsuccessful attempt to launch with test pilots in the last month.

NASA Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Suni” Williams exited the spacecraft after an issue arose with less than four minutes left on the countdown clock. The scheduled liftoff of Starliner’s first crewed test flight was set for approximately 12:25 p.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

An automatic halt was triggered by a ground launch computer in the final moments of the countdown, though the exact reason for the abort was not immediately clear. The next launch window is at 12:03 p.m. ET on Sunday. The feasibility of resetting for that time remains uncertain, but additional launch opportunities are available on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Naturally, it’s disappointing,” remarked Lauren Brennecke, a Boeing spokesperson, “but it’s all part of the process, and our primary objective is ensuring the safety of our valuable crew, Butch and Suni.”

NASA had anticipated this flight years ago, but Boeing has encountered challenges in addressing a series of issues with the spacecraft. The previous launch attempt on May 4 was scrubbed due to concerns about an oxygen relief valve on the rocket.

While investigating that issue, engineers identified a minor helium leak in Starliner’s service module. They determined it to be a small breach in a rubber seal that should not hinder space travel. Flight controllers indicated that if the leak were to worsen, it could be managed in space.

NASA astronauts greeting the crowd before boarding Starliner

U.S. astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita “Suni” Williams greet spectators before boarding Calypso, a Boeing Starliner spacecraft, on June 1, 2024.Photo Credit: NASA / Joel Kowsky

A successful journey of the spacecraft, dubbed “Calypso” by Williams, would establish a second commercial transportation option for ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crew Dragon completed a similar test in 2019 and has since transported over 50 individuals to the station orbiting 250 miles above Earth. 

Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, NASA had relied on Russian rockets from 2011 onwards to transport astronauts to space. This arrangement concluded in 2020 when SpaceX assumed this responsibility, leaving NASA without a backup plan, which was not the original intention. The United States had been paying over $86 million per seat.

Starliner crew closing their helmet visors

If certified, Starliner missions will be capable of carrying up to four astronauts to the station simultaneously, enhancing research activities at the orbiting laboratory.

“This will have a significant impact for us,” stated NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy. “The station has been operational for over 20 years, we’ve conducted thousands of experiments, but in some cases, our research has been limited by the crew’s available time. By increasing the crew size from three to four, we will effectively double the time our astronauts can dedicate to scientific endeavors.”

Despite the challenges faced by Starliner in the past, Wilmore and Williams have expressed confidence in the spacecraft’s capabilities and resilience.

An unoccupied Starliner spacecraft docking at the International Space Station

“If we look back just three years and consider the spacecraft’s envisioned capabilities at that time compared to its current state after addressing and rectifying all identified issues, the progress is truly remarkable,” Wilmore shared during a recent press briefing.

Williams mentioned that they have discussed the previous concerning headlines with their families. 

“I believe they are content and proud that we have been involved in the process of resolving these issues,” she remarked. 

Evan Brooks

Evan is a seasoned reporter with an insatiable curiosity for the latest gadgets and breakthroughs in science and tech.

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