NASA and Boeing Prepare to Launch Astronauts on Starliner, but Holds Possible as Team Works Through Complicated Issues

Cap Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Although a launch date has not been confirmed, it is anticipated that it will happen on June 1 at the earliest.

This mission, known as the Crew Flight Test (CFT), will mark the first time that astronauts have flown aboard Starliner, and the first time that Boeing has sent astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, both former U.S. Navy test pilots, are the astronauts on CFT scheduled to fly Starliner's first mission with astronauts.

The upcoming launch will be the result of a series of delays that have pushed back the flight from its original date of May 19.

The launch was first delayed on May 6, just a few hours before the planned launch time, due to an issue with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

The problem was with an oxygen relief valve on the rocket, and ULA elected to replace the valve, which took until May 12 to complete.

But another issue was discovered thereafter, with a helium leak in Starliner itself.

Although helium is not an immediate risk to a launch, the propulsion system could be affected for small maneuvers in orbit.

In addition to studying the leak, NASA and Boeing have been working to determine how the helium system could affect Starliner's return to Earth.

The leak is located in one Aerojet Rocketdyne reaction control system (RCS) thruster that is located in a single "doghouse," one of four such assemblies around the outside of Starliner's service module.

The leaking is occurring from a rubber seal that is in between two metal parts of a flange, which "keeps that interface tight so that the helium can pass through there," said NASA's Steve Stich, program manager for the agency's commercial crew program.

Although the team has not confirmed a launch date, they have several backup dates in the near term, including June 2, June 5, and June 6.

The launch is significant as it will be the second time that Boeing has sent astronauts to space, following SpaceX's first launch with astronauts in 2020.

Boeing is the other vendor for commercial crew aside from SpaceX, after they were selected for astronaut taxis in 2014.

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