Arrival of the first astronauts transported by Boeing's Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station – 06/06/2024 at 11:05 pm.

Astronauts Sonny Williams (in blue, right) and Butch Wilmore (center) enter the International Space Station after traveling aboard a Boeing Starliner capsule, June 6, 2024. (NASA/Nicholas KAMM)

The first two astronauts carried by Boeing's Starliner spacecraft entered the International Space Station on Thursday, in a decisive step for this mission that has been awaited for years, despite problems that occurred during flight with the capsule's propulsion system.

“What a wonderful place, and it's great to be back here,” NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore said with a smile. This is his third stay on the International Space Station (ISS), as well as his colleague Sonny Williams.

This first crewed Starliner mission represents a major challenge for the aerospace giant and NASA. It aims to prove that the vehicle is safe to begin regular operations.

Ten years ago, the US Space Agency ordered two new vehicles from the American companies Boeing and SpaceX to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station. If SpaceX has already played this role as a space taxi for four years, Boeing's program is years behind schedule.

After taking off from Florida the day before, the spacecraft slowly approached the International Space Station on Thursday, which is located 400 kilometers above Earth and moving at a speed of about 28,000 kilometers per hour.

The docking took place at 5:34 PM GMT, about an hour and twenty minutes later than initially scheduled.

Problems with some of the ship's engines used to make small course adjustments delayed the final approach.

NASA explained that five of these small engines, out of 28, failed at some point. But four of them were eventually restarted, providing the necessary numbers for the operation.

The spacecraft door opened about two hours after docking, allowing astronauts Butch Wilmore, 61, and Sonny Williams, 58, to be greeted by the seven other people already aboard the flight laboratory (NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts).

A press conference with officials from NASA and Boeing is scheduled for the afternoon.


Boeing's two passengers must spend just over a week on the International Space Station, before returning to Earth aboard the Starliner.

During the night from Wednesday to Thursday, NASA announced the discovery of two new helium leaks, in addition to a previously known leak, while flying on the spacecraft.

Jim May, director of Boeing, said in a message conveyed by the aerospace giant on Thursday morning that these leaks do not represent a “risk to the safety of the crew, the ship, or the mission.”

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Boeing Starliner spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida on June 5, 2024. (AFP/Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo)

A leak was identified on one of the ship's engines before take-off. It was then decided not to repair it, because after analysis, NASA described it as “small” and considered that it did not represent a danger.

Helium is not a flammable gas, but it is used in a ship's propulsion system.

It was not immediately clear whether these leaks were related to the propellant problem encountered just before docking.

-Manual driving-

The empty spacecraft has already arrived at the International Space Station once in 2022, but this is the first time it has carried astronauts.

Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams have trained for several years for this task.

A few hours after liftoff, they temporarily manually piloted the spacecraft to test its proper performance.

“The accuracy is really unbelievable,” Butch Wilmore said in a recording broadcast by Boeing on Wednesday. “Even more so than in the simulator.”

He added: “The first six hours were absolutely amazing and exceeded our expectations.” “It's just an amazing ship.”

The Starliner development program has been marred by multiple disappointments that have led to successive postponements.

Thus, Boeing beat out SpaceX, which has already been transporting astronauts to the International Space Station since 2020.

But NASA wants to have a second means of transportation so it can better deal with potential problems with one of the capsules or emergency situations.

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