Boeing's shiny new Starliner crew capsule is scheduled to make its debut Friday with a launch to the International Space Station, the company's last hurdle before flying astronauts for NASA next year. Testing the cosmic waters will be Rosie the mannequin, in Boeing's custom blue spacesuit and a red polka dot bandanna modeled after the World War II riveter. If the orbital demo goes well, the first Starliner crew could be rocketing to the space station by summer. SpaceX also is looking to start launching astronauts for NASA, perhaps by spring. It completed a similar test flight of its crew capsule in March. The space agency hired the companies to build and fly the capsules while it focused on a new generation of moonshots and other distant travel. Regardless of which company flies astronauts first, NASA's commercial crew program finally appears to be closing in on the finish line, after years of technical difficulties and delays.
"2020 is the year," program manager Kathy Lueders said. "This is really the final trial of these vehicles." It's been more than 8 years since Americans blasted into orbit from home soil, and everyone — Boeing, SpaceX, NASA, local residents — is eager for astronaut launches to resume. "Really exciting now!" astronaut Chris Ferguson tweeted. "Let's go fly." Ferguson was the commander of NASA's final space shuttle flight in July 2011. He left NASA and joined Boeing to help develop the Starliner. He's assigned to the first crew, along with two NASA astronauts. All three will watch Friday's launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. An Atlas V rocket, from United Launch Alliance, is set to blast off with the Starliner. The 6:36am EST launch may be visible from the East Coast, per Space.com, and will be streamed here.
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