NASA astronauts return to Space Coast ahead of Starliner launch

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams arrive at Kennedy Space Center’s former shuttle landing facility aboard T-38 jets on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 ahead of their planned launch aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on the Crew Flight Test mission to the International Space Station. (NASA/TNS)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams returned to Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday as their much-delayed flight to the International Space Station aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner looks like it may finally happen Saturday.

The duo are slated to climb back aboard the capsule at 6:25 a.m. HST, with a backup launch opportunity on Sunday. ULA said the weather forecast calls for 90% good conditions at the launch site for both days, although the weather also has to be clear along the launch corridor in the event of an emergency abort.


Dubbed the Crew Flight Test, the mission marks the first human spaceflight for Starliner as Boeing tries to play catchup to SpaceX as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX launched its first crewed test flight of its Crew Dragon on May 30, 2020, so Starliner’s launch will come just over four years since that flight.

Wilmore and Williams came within two hours of launch back on May 6. The pair had suited up, ridden out to the launch pad and climbed aboard the spacecraft when teams scrubbed the attempt because of an issue with a fluttering valve on the rocket’s upper Centaur stage.

Teams with NASA, Boeing and ULA just last week announced they were OK with the helium leak not threatening the safety of the crew while also working a related issue that addressed the unlikely potential for multiple engines failing on the return trip home.

With the rocket cleared to launch, Wilmore and Williams flew back on their T-38 jets arriving at the former shuttle landing facility at KSC with four days to go before they will try again.

If all goes well, Boeing’s first contracted mission for crew rotation to the ISS could come as early as next February.

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