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Boeing is set to launch its Starliner capsule to the International Space Station for the first time on Friday.
The launch is scheduled for 6:36 a.m. ET from the launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The capsule is being launched on top of an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance (ULA), the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
While no people will be inside the capsule, the flight represents a key test in Boeing’s effort to build a spacecraft capable of flying NASA astronauts and cargo to the space station.
“This is what we live for, this is how we make aviation safe, this is how we make spaceflight safe,” NASA astronaut Mike Fincke said in a press briefing before the launch.
Both Boeing and SpaceX have been developing capsules for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which is the agency’s solution to end reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, astronauts have flown aboard Russian Soyuz.
In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX for up to $2.6 billion and Boeing for up to $4.2 billion. Future Commercial Crew contracts would be up for grabs, as NASA would look to buy seats on Boeing’s Starliner capsule and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Delays have plagued the program, however, as NASA intended the first launches to happen as early as 2017.
While the companies’ costs to fly NASA astronauts have been a contentious issue, the agency’s leader Jim Bridenstine on Thursday emphasized that NASA is focused on utilizing U.S.-built spacecraft once again.
“The real question is: Would you prefer to spend the money with a company in the United States of America or would you prefer to spend the money in Russia?” Bridenstine said.