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Boeing's Starliner on top of an Atlas V rocket ahead of launch. Photo: Boeing

On Friday, Boeing will launch its first orbital flight of a vehicle designed to bring astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in 2020.

The state of play: The mission will mark a major test for the much anticipated CST-100 Starliner system.

Why it matters: NASA has relied on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft and rocket to bring its astronauts to the space station and back to Earth since the end of the space shuttle program.

  • With Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, the space agency hopes to end that dependency in favor of launching people from the U.S. again.
  • If this uncrewed test goes well, it could pave the way for Boeing to launch its first crewed mission to the station in early 2020.

Details: Starliner is expected to take flight at 6:36am ET Friday atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

  • The spacecraft comes equipped with life support systems that will be needed for its first crewed mission and an anthropomorphic test dummy named Rosie.
  • Rosie — named after Rosie the Riveter — is outfitted with a host of sensors to keep an eye on what an astronaut might experience during flight.
  • The capsule will also deliver supplies to the astronauts, including a clutch of holiday presents, when it docks to the station about 24 or 25 hours after launch.

What to watch: It will be interesting to see which company — Boeing or SpaceX — manages to launch its first crews to space.

  • The two companies have faced major delays with budget shortfalls and technical issues setting them back, but now, both seem to be on the verge of flying their first NASA astronauts to orbit.
  • SpaceX — which has already done its uncrewed test flight to the station — is expected to prove out the Crew Dragon's abort system during an in-flight test in January.

Go deeper: SpaceX and Boeing inch toward sending people to space

Go deeper

23 mins ago - World

China and Russia vaccinate the world — for now

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. and Europe focus on vaccinating their own populations, China and Russia are sending millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world.

Why it matters: China's double success in controlling its domestic outbreak and producing several viable vaccines has allowed it to focus on providing doses abroad — an effort that could help to save lives across several continents.

Ina Fried, author of Login
33 mins ago - Technology

Report: China will dominate AI unless U.S. invests more

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S., which once had a dominant head start in artificial intelligence, now has just a few year's lead on China and risks being overtaken unless government steps in, according to a new report to Congress and the White House.

Why it matters: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who chaired the committee that issued the report, tells Axios that the U.S. risks dire consequences if it fails to both invest in key technologies and fully integrate AI into the military.

Americans agree about more issues than they realize

Data: Populace Inc.; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Many Americans assume the rest of the country doesn't share their political and policy priorities — but they're often wrong, according to new polling by Populace, first seen by Axios.

Why it matters: The polling reveals that despite growing political polarization, Americans share similar long-term goals and priorities for the country.