NASA, Boeing launch key uncrewed test flight to space station

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NASA and Boeing launched the Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, a critical uncrewed test flight for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Starliner spacecraft aboard lifted off at 6:54 p.m. Eastern Time (2254 GMT) Thursday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Following an orbital insertion burn 31 minutes later, Starliner was on its way for a rendezvous and docking with the ISS.

Launch and orbital insertion are major milestones for Boeing's second uncrewed flight, bringing the United States closer to having two independent crew systems flying missions to and from the space station, said NASA.

Starliner is scheduled to dock at the forward port of the station's Harmony module at 7:10 p.m. Eastern Time (2310 GMT) Friday.

Starliner is carrying about 500 pounds (227 kg) of NASA cargo and crew supplies and more than 300 pounds (136 kg) of Boeing cargo to the ISS for the flight test.

The spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station on May 25, when it will undock and return to Earth, with a desert landing in the western part of the United States.

Starliner will return with more than 600 pounds (272 kg) of cargo, including Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System reusable tanks that provide breathable air to station crew members, according to NASA.

The tanks will be refurbished on Earth and sent back to station on a future flight.

The mission, dubbed as Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2, will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying Boeing's crew transportation system for regular flights with astronauts to and from the space station, said NASA.

NASA has been working with several American aerospace industry companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems since 2010 under its Commercial Crew Program.

In 2014, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to transport crew to the ISS from the United States. These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory, according to NASA.

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