It’s not every day that a brand new spacecraft arrives at the International Space Station. So when a Boeing Starliner space capsule made its historic first docking at the orbiting lab this weekend, you can bet the astronauts were watching.
The first unmanned Boeing Starliner spaceship to visit the station moored Friday evening (May 20) and new crew photos from the orbiting lab captured the moment in spectacular detail. Starliner’s mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2is a critical test flight to see if the commercial space taxi is ready to transport astronauts to the station for NASA.
“Welcome Starliner! wrote European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who arrived at the station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in April. She took stunning photos of the Starliner spacecraft above a glowing blue Earth and shared them on Twitter.
In two of Cristoforetti’s photos, the Boeing Starliner is seen approaching the international space station. Two more show the commercial space capsule after it connects with a forward docking port on the station’s US-built Harmony module.
Yet another photo shows Starliner, but barely. It was taken at the start of docking operations on Friday, when Starliner was a mere light in the vast darkness of space.
” She’s there ! Cristoforetti wrote at the time. “Only a small dot so far, but soon she’ll be knocking on our door.”
Cristoforetti took his Starliner photos as two NASA astronauts, Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines, monitored the spacecraft’s approach to make sure it was going according to plan.
“Starliner looks beautiful on the front of the space station,” Hines told Mission Control after the successful docking.
Even more stunning photos of Starliner were captured by Russian cosmonaut Sergey Korsakov, who took footage of the oncoming Starliner as it stood ready behind a visiting Northrop Grumman Cygnus freighter.
from Boeing Starliner OFT-2 spacecraft launched into orbit Thursday, May 19 on an Atlas V rocket that lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft will spend about five days tied to the station while astronauts and Boeing perform a series of tests to measure its performance.
Starliner is one of two commercial spacecraft chosen by NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The US space agency chose the Starliner from Boeing and that from SpaceX crew dragon vehicles to carry out taxi flights to the station in 2014.
SpaceX has been flying astronauts for NASA since May 2020, but Boeing’s Starliner has been delayed by a series of setbacks.
In December 2019, Boeing’s first uncrewed Starliner test flight failed to reach the space station when software problems prevented it from reaching its intended orbit. In August 2021, attempts to launch this second test flight were stalled by stuck valves on the Starliner spacecraft.
But on Friday, those issues appeared to be mostly resolved, although Boeing engineers are investigating some issues that arose during the Starliner’s trip to the station.
Two of the 12 main thrusters failed early in the mission and two other smaller reaction control thrusters shut down during docking operations on Friday. Engineers also had to work around a cooler-than-expected thermal cooling system loop, but none of the issues posed a serious risk to the mission, Boeing officials said.
Cristoforetti, Korsakov and the rest of the International Space Station’s Expedition 67 crew of seven will open Starliner’s OFT-2 spacecraft for the first time on Saturday. The spaceship carries 500 pounds of supplies and equipment for astronauts.
Boeing currently plans to detach the Starliner capsule on May 25 for a scheduled land landing at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, but that landing target and departure date could depend on weather conditions, NASA and Boeing said.
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