Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi was moved to its Florida launch complex and set atop its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket today in preparation for next month’s uncrewed test mission to the International Space Station.
Why it matters: NASA is paying billions of dollars to Boeing for the development of Starliner as a commercial transport to carry astronauts to and from the station. The effort is years behind its original schedule, and it’s cost more than originally planned, but Boeing’s Dec. 17 test flight to and from the station is the last major hurdle before Starliner begins carrying people — presumably early next year.
What’s at stake: While Boeing is working on Starliner, SpaceX is working on its own Crew Dragon space taxi — which has already done an uncrewed test mission to the space station. Another Crew Dragon is being prepped for an uncrewed in-flight test of its launch abort system, and then SpaceX will be set for its own first-ever crewed flight early next year. Both companies want to get things right for the sake of future NASA contracts, and for the bragging rights that come with being the first to send astronauts in orbit on a U.S.-made spaceship since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Of note: Like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon before it, Boeing’s Starliner is carrying a sensor-laden test dummy — or “anthropomorphic test device,” in NASA-speak — to give engineers a sense of what humans will experience during future flights. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon mannequin was nicknamed Ripley in honor of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” movies. Today Boeing said its mannequin is called Rosie the Rocketeer — a tribute to World War II’s Rosie the Riveter that makes a fashion statement in the form of a red polka-dotted headscarf.