June 21st at 9:00 Am Est
Travelling by a boat aptly named “Rocketship” that ULA owns specifically to carry their rocket boosters, second stages and other launch hardware from their factory in Decatur, Alabama. The 107ft long 12.5ft in diameter booster will launch Boeings Crew Test Flight later this year carrying three astronauts to the ISS (International Space Station). Though Atlas rockets have a history with human spaceflight after transporting four astronauts to space between 1962 & 1963 for Project Mercury, this will be the first time in history of the Atlas V booster will carry a human payload. Two of those humans, astronauts, Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Mike Fincke were on site this morning in Port Canaveral to watch their ride be offloaded and transported to the integration facility.
Back in September of 2014 NASA’s Commercial Crew Program selected two companies to fly astronauts back and forth from the space station. Those two companies, Boeing & SpaceX will be filling the role of the Space Shuttle program which ended in 2011 after thirty years of orbital service. SpaceX of course as we have seen has thrice flown astronauts to orbit now with their Crew Dragon capsule which uses their Falcon 9 rocket for launching the capsules. The Boeing Starliner capsule will need the Atlas V boosters to ferry their capsules, and the choice was an easy one for the company since the Atlas V has a perfect flight record. In December 2019 Boeing & ULA launched their OFT-1 mission which was an uncrewed test flight of the capsule to demonstrate its capabilities of safely delivering crews to and from the ISS. The capsule was unsuccessful in its test as it never reached the space station, but it did return safely to Earth proving the company was almost ready with their technology for the Commercial Crew Program.
CFT will end up the third orbital mission for Starliner, as just mentioned their was OFT-1, and late next month, July 30th OFT-2 will launch from SLC-41 with Starliner riding on the Atlas V in hopes of all the kinks being worked out for the company and the second test flight a success. If and when it does Boeing will be certified through NASA to fly their astronauts and the path will be cleared for three astronauts to once again return to space. Now that the booster is at the launch site it will undergo receiving checks and wait for the start of operations for its mission to launch the three astronauts to the orbiting lab.