Boeing Starliner spacecraft attempts third takeoff – 06/05/2024 at 3:38 p.m.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore (right) and Sonny Williams (left), at Cape Canaveral on June 5, 2024 (AFP/Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo)

Third: The first takeoff with astronauts of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft will be attempted for the third time in a month on Wednesday, a mission that has been awaited for years and represents a major challenge for the aviation giant and NASA.

Liftoff is scheduled to take place at 10:52 a.m. from Cape Canaveral in Florida (2:52 p.m. GMT).

American astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams took their places aboard the Starliner capsule, placed on top of the ULA group's Atlas V rocket, which will propel it into orbit.

“We are not working on any issues” and “the weather is great,” Tory Bruno, president of ULA, wrote Wednesday morning on X.

The two astronauts must spend about a week on the International Space Station (ISS), and then return again aboard the Starliner, in order to prove that this new vehicle is safe and can begin its regular flights.

Boeing has accumulated years of delays in its program, allowing itself to largely outpace SpaceX, which has already been ferrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station since 2020.

A ULA Atlas V rocket with the Starliner spacecraft at its apex, June 3, 2024 at Cape Canaveral in Florida (AFP/Miguel J. Rodriguez Carrillo)

But the US space agency wants to have a second ship to better be able to handle potential emergencies or problems on one of the capsules.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Wednesday morning wished the X spacecraft “good luck” for the Boeing mission.

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Twice, at the beginning of May and then last week, liftoffs were canceled at the last minute due to technical problems, even though the astronauts had already taken their places aboard the rocket and the rocket was full of fuel.

A problem with the missile's valve, and then a problem with the electricity supply to one of the computers on the ground responsible for these cancellations, have since been fixed.

A small helium leak on one of the Boeing spacecraft's engines also led to additional analysis time, but it was ultimately decided not to repair it, because it did not pose a risk according to NASA.

– “Butch and Sonny” –

Butch Wilmore, 61, and Sonny Williams, 58, have both been to the International Space Station twice and have been training for this mission for several years.

A diagram of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft as it prepares to carry out its first crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) (AFP/Gal ROMA)

After take-off, they must temporarily switch to manual driving to test proper operation.

Both test pilots, from the US Navy, were actively involved in the development of the Starliner, and this example was named Calypso, in honor of Commander Cousteau's ship.

The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station about 24 hours after launch, at approximately 4:15 pm GMT.

It carries an unexpected cargo, added at the last minute: a new pump for the astronauts' urine-to-water recycling system on the International Space Station.

The onboard pump recently stopped working and urine must be stored in tanks in the meantime, but these capacities are limited.

– Multiple disappointments –

Boeing, which has also been shaken by safety problems on its planes, is also betting its reputation on the mission.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida before the first astronaut mission of the Boeing Starliner capsule, June 1, 2024 (AFP/Gregg Newton)

The Starliner's development was marred by multiple disappointments. After the failure of the first unmanned test flight in 2019, the empty vehicle was able to reach the International Space Station only in May 2022.

Other problems were later discovered — related to the capsule's brakes during its reentry into the atmosphere, or even flammable tape that had to be removed from inside the vehicle — delaying its maiden flight with the crew.

This is essential for Starliner to achieve the coveted NASA certification.

Only a few American ships have carried astronauts in the past.

After the American space shuttles were closed in 2011, NASA astronauts were forced to travel aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

To put an end to this dependence, in 2014 the US space agency signed a contract with Boeing and SpaceX to develop new ships.

Once Starliner is up and running, NASA wants to switch between SpaceX and Boeing flights.

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