Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams gives insight into 1st crewed Boeing Starliner launch: ‘It feels unreal’ - Hindustan Times
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Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams gives insight into 1st crewed Boeing Starliner launch: ‘It feels unreal’

ByShweta Kukreti
May 02, 2024 08:34 PM IST

Two NASA astronauts -- Indian-origin Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore -- are all set to make their way to space in first crewed Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.

Two seasoned NASA astronauts -- Indian-origin Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore -- are all set to make their way to space in Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, the first-ever spaceflight with humans set to launch next week.

Butch Wilmore, 61, and Sunita Williams, 58, will fly to the space station for around a week in a bid "to test the Starliner spacecraft and its subsystems before NASA certifies the transportation system for rotational missions to the orbiting laboratory for the agency's Commercial Crew Program."(NASA)
Butch Wilmore, 61, and Sunita Williams, 58, will fly to the space station for around a week in a bid "to test the Starliner spacecraft and its subsystems before NASA certifies the transportation system for rotational missions to the orbiting laboratory for the agency's Commercial Crew Program."(NASA)

According to NASA, the launch of United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Boeing Starliner spacecraft is scheduled for 10:34 pm EDT Monday, May 6, from Florida's Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

This historic liftoff will place the two atop the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. There are a number of Starliner experiments scheduled over the next week, including a quick visit to the International Space Station (ISS).

Wilmore, 61, and Williams, 58, will fly to the space station for around a week in a bid "to test the Starliner spacecraft and its subsystems before NASA certifies the transportation system for rotational missions to the orbiting laboratory for the agency's Commercial Crew Program."

The duo said that they will be able to evaluate the spacecraft during its first crewed launch because of their experience as test pilots with the US Navy.

Both the veteran astronauts are known for NASA's space shuttle and Russia's Soyuz spacecraft programs and they have logged at least 11,000 hours of flight time, the majority of which was in high-performance aircraft. They have trained and supported other astronauts for decades, and completed lengthy stints as long-duration astronauts on previous ISS trips.

Starliner is scheduled to dock at the station's Harmony module's forward-facing port on Wednesday, May 8, at 12:48 am.

Also Read: How NASA scientists save Voyager 1, the farthest artificial object from Earth?

Sunita Williams to serve as mission pilot

William, who will pilot the mission, spoke to media personnel during a press conference that was aired live from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

“It almost feels unreal,” she said, adding that “We feel very safe and very comfortable when this spacecraft flies. This is where we’re supposed to be.”

Williams' excitement is an outcome of having waited in line for a position on a commercial crew flight for almost ten years. In 2015, she was initially assigned to the relevant NASA program due to her experience in spacecraft development. Later in 2022, she was assigned to the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission.

Butch Wilmore opens up about the mission

Wilmore was first chosen as a backup for the mission and has been in the program queue since at least 2019. In October 2020, he was transferred to the CFT prime crew, Space.com reported.

On being asked about using his piloting experience to the development of Starliner, Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore said: That background of understanding test acquisition was required to certify various components ... [and] the vital importance of making sure that in an integrated fashion, everything works as planned. That's been invaluable for the process."

“I don't think either one of us ever dreamed that we'd be associated with the first flight of a brand-new spacecraft,” he said while expressing his joy ahead of the launch.

Know about the mission and what NASA has to say

Calling it a crucial milestone for NASA and Commercial Crew Program, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson asserted, “We work to restore America's human spaceflight capabilities.”

“We're excited to see Starliner's first crewed flight test and look forward to a successful mission,” he added.

Starliner spacecraft, which features a crew capsule that can complete up to 10 flights, has room for up to seven astronauts. Boeing's human spaceflight capabilities have advanced significantly with the vehicle's launch on the Atlas V rocket.

The successful completion of this mission will bring the Starliner one step closer to regularly delivering personnel to and from the ISS, therefore strengthening the United States' autonomy in space travel. This will also benefit SpaceX.

Following their arrival in the Florida spaceport on April 25, Wilmore and Williams have been placed under quarantine inside the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

They will stay at the orbiting laboratory for around seven days. The crew capsule will land in the southwestern United States, using an airbag and a parachute.

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