Boeing docks Starliner capsule to ISS for the first time, a huge accomplishment for the company after years of false starts.
With the arrival of Starliner late Friday, NASA has finally realized its long-standing goal of having crew capsules from competing US companies fly to the space station.
SpaceX is already off and running. Elon Musk’s company performed the same test three years ago and has since launched 18 astronauts as well as tourists to the space station.
“Today is a historic day,” NASA astronaut Bob Hines said via radio from the orbiting complex. “Starliner is looking beautiful on the front of the station,” he added.
The last time Boeing’s Starliner flew in space, it never got close to the station and ended up in the wrong orbit.
Following Thursday’s launch, the revamped spacecraft arrived at the correct location and docked with the station 25 hours later. Despite the failure of a few thrusters, the automated rendezvous went off without a hitch.
If the rest of the Starliner mission goes well, Boeing could launch its first crew by the end of this year. As the action unfolded nearly 435km (270 miles) up, the astronauts expected to serve on the first Starliner crew joined Boeing and NASA flight controllers in Houston.
When it comes to the astronaut taxi service based in Florida, NASA wants redundancy. Boeing’s long road with Starliner, according to Administrator Bill Nelson, emphasizes the importance of having two types of crew capsules. After the shuttle program ended, US astronauts were forced to ride Russian rockets until SpaceX’s first crew flight in 2020.
Boeing’s first Starliner test flight in 2019 was marred by software glitches that cut the mission short and threatened the spacecraft’s survival. These were fixed, but when the new capsule was ready to launch last summer, corroded valves halted the countdown. More repairs followed, costing Boeing nearly $600 million in do-over costs.
Boeing ground controllers practiced maneuvering the capsule and testing its robotic vision system before allowing Starliner to approach the space station on Friday. Except for a cooling loop and four failed thrusters, everything checked out fine, according to Boeing. The capsule, on the other hand, maintained a constant temperature and had plenty of other thrusters for steering.
Boeing flight controllers in Houston could see the space station through the capsule’s cameras once Starliner was within 15 kilometers (10 miles) of it. “We’re making a wave. “Can you see us?” Hines joked.
Starliner was deafeningly silent. The commander’s seat was once again occupied by Rosie the Rocketeer, a space-age version of Rosie the Riveter from World War II.
The gleaming white-with-blue-trim capsule hovered 10 metres (33 feet) from the station for nearly two hours – much longer than planned – as flight controllers adjusted its docking ring and checked everything else was in working order. When the green light came, Starliner closed the gap in four minutes, prompting applause in Boeing’s control center. When the latches were tightly secured, applause erupted.
Seven astronauts from the space station will unload groceries and equipment from Starliner and pack it with experiments. Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which crashed off the coast of Florida, Starliner will attempt to land in New Mexico on Wednesday.
SOURCE : ALJAZEERA