Boeing’s Starliner Fixes Problems and Docks with Space Station

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Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has successfully transported two astronauts to the International Space Station, marking a crucial step for the aerospace company in its efforts to qualify the capsule for routine crewed missions.

Starliner docked securely at 10:34 AM Pacific Time. After taking some time to balance the pressure between the Starliner and the station, the hatch was opened around 12:46 PM. The astronauts, experienced spacefarers Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, were warmly welcomed into the ISS by the seven crew members already aboard. This is their third visit to the station each, but the first occasion any human has arrived via a Boeing Starliner capsule.

Boeing and NASA are currently undertaking what is expected to be a roughly 10-day test mission of the Starliner spacecraft, which has faced numerous delays and technical challenges. The two astronauts will stay on the ISS for eight days before re-entering Starliner for a parachute-assisted landing somewhere in the southwestern United States.

Despite its success, the mission was not without issues. The vehicle encountered three helium leaks, one of which was discovered before the spacecraft even launched, though Boeing asserts that the leaks do not pose a safety risk for the crew or the vehicle. Additionally, five of the 28 maneuvering thrusters on the spacecraft’s propulsion system malfunctioned, although Boeing and NASA were able to reactivate four of them following hot-fire tests—essentially turning them off and on again. These thrusters are vital for making precise adjustments to the capsule’s trajectory as it nears the station.

The thruster issue prompted the astronauts to halt Starliner less than 1,000 feet from the ISS, delaying the docking process. They received clearance to dock a few hours later after resolving the problem.

“Nice to be attached to the big city in the sky,” Wilmore remarked to Mission Control. “It’s a great place to be.”

Starliner launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Wednesday, marking the first time the capsule has transported astronauts to space. This mission is the pivotal final step before Starliner can be approved for regular astronaut transportation missions with NASA. Currently, SpaceX is the sole provider for that service, using its Crew Dragon capsule.

Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei covers the space and defense industries. Previously, she covered the public utilities and the power grid for California Energy Markets. You can also find her work at MIT’s Undark Magazine, The Verge, and Discover Magazine. She received an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Aria is based in Austin, Texas.

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