Updated Jun 6, 2024 - Science

Boeing's Starliner successfully docks with ISS in first crewed mission

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on June 05, 2024 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams on June 05, 2024 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Boeing's Starliner successfully docked on Thursday with the International Space Station (ISS) during its long-awaited first crewed mission after entering Earth's orbit from a Cape Canaveral launch the day prior.

Why it matters: A successful mission is critical for Starliner to be declared an operational crew system by NASA and for Boeing to begin competing with SpaceX for additional missions to the space station.

  • It was Boeing's third attempt at its first crewed mission to the ISS after previous tries were scrapped due to technical issues.

Catch up quick: Its spacecraft launched atop an Atlas V rocket at 10:52am ET from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Wednesday.

  • NASA said later Wednesday evening that three helium leaks had been identified on the spacecraft, which remained in stable condition.
  • Starliner had been scheduled to dock with the ISS around 12:15pm ET Thursday but the craft had to take a brief pause to troubleshoot control thrusters that had failed.
  • Despite the thruster issues, the astronauts on board were able to transition from autonomous flying to manual controls to perform piloting demonstrations before docking around 1:30pm ET.

Zoom in: Aboard Starliner are veteran NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, who was serving as commander, and Suni Williams, who was piloting the spacecraft.

  • Williams' participation marked the first time a woman has been on a flight test of an orbital spacecraft.
  • It was also ULA's first crewed launch, which was commemorated by cutting the tie of ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno, a NASA tradition.

The big picture: The crewed test was delayed for years due to technical problems with Starliner that required Boeing to rework aspects of the craft and conduct additional uncrewed test flights.

What's next: The spacecraft's hatch will next open, and Wilmore and Williams will be welcomed by other astronauts on the ISS.

  • Wilmore and Williams are expected to spend about a week at the ISS to test components of Starliner before they return to Earth aboard the spacecraft through a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern U.S.

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Editor's note: This story was updated with new developments.

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