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First time ever Boeing Starliner launched crew capsule into space

Newsman: Boeing’ Starliner space capsule with astronauts aboard for the first time ever kicked off a high-stakes test flight to the International Space Station Wednesday.

The mission marks the first time the commercially-built capsule is carrying humans, with a scheduled docking to the station Thursday around 12:15 p.m. ET, with astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore as commander and Sunita “Suni” Williams serving as mission pilot.

Veteran NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams make up the Starliner’s inaugural crew. They are expected to spend about a day journeying to the space station before docking with the orbiting outpost. They will test key systems of Starliner as it docks with the space station, including life support and communication. While the spacecraft can essentially fly itself, the duo will test out manual controls of the vehicle as it approaches the orbiting outpost.

Astronaut Sunita Williams,58 is an  Indian American and has completed two other space missions.  She , has been known to bring items representing her culture with her to space.  She previously told reporters that she brought some essentials onboard past flights, including sacred texts Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and, of course, samosas.

The Starliner program, including this first crewed flight, was plagued by years of delays and technical glitches. Most recently, a launch attempt Saturday was called off with less than 4 minutes remaining in the countdown. A previous attempt on May 6 was also scuttled after an issue cropped up with a valve in the Atlas V rocket, which is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. A separate helium leak was later detected in the Starliner’s propulsion system, which led to further delays.

The Boeing’s Starliner capsule reached orbit about twelve minutes later from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station carrying two NASA astronauts. The crew will spend the next 25 hours racing to catch up to the International Space Station.

It was the third launch attempt of Starliner. On Saturday, the countdown was halted with less than four minutes left. An issue with the flight computers that control launch was to blame. Launch provider ULA replaced a power supply on the system and cleared it for Wednesday’s launch. It followed a launch attempt last month that was called off due to a misbehaving valve on the Atlas V rocket’s upper stage Centaur.

While fixing that issue, Boeing discovered another: a helium leak. The gas is used in Starliner’s propulsion system. After a review of the data, NASA was confident Boeing could successfully fly the mission.

With all those issues resolved, and Starliner on its way to the space station.Wilmore and Williams are taking Starliner on its maiden flight, putting the vehicle through its paces ahead of operational missions for NASA. After the Space Shuttle retired in 2011, NASA partnered with two commercial companies — Boeing and SpaceX — to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

The crew will spend about a week aboard the station with a scheduled landing under a canopy of parachutes in the southwest U.S. Teams at NASA and Boeing will comb through the data from this flight before certifying the vehicle for operational mission. NASA plans to split astronaut flights between Boeing and SpaceX, with trips to the I.S.S. happening about every six months.

The Starliner capsule and its astronaut crew is expected to spend about a week at the International Space Station.

NASA said the earliest landing opportunity is June 14, but that could change, particularly if there are additional activities for Wilmore and Williams to perform at the station.

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