VIDEO: Spectacular Liftoff

( – In a spectacular liftoff, two NASA astronauts have embarked on a mission to the International Space Station aboard Boeing’s innovative Starliner capsule, in its long-awaited first manned flight.

The mission launched from Cape Canaveral occurred significantly later than initially planned, The Guardian reports.

The launch, under a predominantly clear and blue sky in Florida, follows seven years of delays, a failed uncrewed test flight five years ago, and recent technical setbacks that led to multiple aborted launch attempts.

Veteran astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams achieved orbit 12 minutes post the 10:52 AM ET liftoff.

They are anticipated to dock with the ISS shortly after noon on Thursday.

The successful completion of their eight-to-ten-day mission would position Starliner as NASA’s second privately owned vehicle for transporting humans to lower Earth orbit, alongside SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

Bill Nelson, NASA’s Administrator and a former astronaut, celebrated the launch as “a special moment”.

“This is another milestone in this extraordinary history of NASA,” he stated at a press conference after the launch.

“With Dragon and Starliner, the US is going to have two unique human space transportation systems. We always like to have a backup that makes it safer for our astronauts. That’s why we started the commercial crew program [CCP] in the first place, partnering with US companies to deliver safe and reliable spaceflight at the same time of cutting the cost. When we expand our fleet of spacecraft, what we’re doing is expanding our reach to the stars,” Nelson elaborated.

The launch also provided a significant boost to Boeing, which has been eager for positive publicity amidst recent safety and quality concerns in its aviation division.

“The whole company has rallied around us. I get emotional talking about it,” said Aaron Kraftcheck, senior manager for Starliner’s flight software, design and development, during a briefing in April.

NASA has contracted Boeing for an additional six astronaut rotation flights to the ISS as part of the CCP.

Each Starliner capsule, capable of up to ten reuses, requires a six-month intermission between missions.

The Starliner, officially named CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation), embodies a technological leap in space travel.

Its autonomous systems handle flight, navigation, and course corrections, relegating Williams and Wilmore to essentially passenger roles, though they can manually override if necessary.

The capsule’s innovative design includes a weldless structure to minimize structural failure risks and an interior as spacious as a midsize SUV, capable of carrying up to seven people but will typically be configured for four astronauts and cargo on ISS missions.

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