1 of 5 | A Boeing Starliner spacecraft sits on top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket as it is prepared for launch from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on May 18. Its first manned flight is expected in April. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 17 (UPI) -- NASA and Boeing said Friday they aim to launch the first manned test flight mission of the CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station in April.
The long-awaited Starliner, described as the "next generation" spacecraft has been highly anticipated to add a needed transportation option to the orbiting laboratory, along with other missions. The launch had been planned for February after being pushed back from last fall.
Steve Stich, manager, of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, acknowledged at a joint news conference that several things will have to fall into place to keep that time frame.
Two dockings are scheduled to take place at the space station ahead of the Starliner, he said. Anticipating those go well, there are still Earth-bound challenges such as the weather.
"We still have a pretty good plan [for launch] and we're sticking to it," said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager at Boeing. "We look at five different areas to judge our progress and measure ourselves."
He said those areas include hardware, software, mission operation and engineering products. He said many of the areas are in their final stages.
"We have a line of sight to get to our mission time frame and get through our reviews," Nappi said. "We're looking really good."
Jeff Arend, manager of the systems and engineering and integration office for NASA's International Space Station Program, said the mission is critical from a certification standpoint and gets more flights going to and from the space station.
The Starliner is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and return eight days later in White Sands, N.M.
NASA astronaut test pilots Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Suni Williams will fly the Starliner and test the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner system. In Williams, the launch will also mark the first time in history that a woman will be a crewmember of the first crewed orbital flight of a new spacecraft type.
Stich said Wilmore and Williams are "excited" about the mission and are going though simulations to continue to prepare for the test flight. He said they have had dressing rehearsals for docking and landing.
"Butch and Suni are very excited about flying this mission," he said, adding they will be reviewing how cargo gets stored.
If successful, the Starliner will start the final certification process for it to be making regular flights to the ISS.
During the uncrewed orbital launch last May, Nappi said there was an issue with thrusters being "deselected" by sensors. He said some minimal tweaks were done to correct that issue, and NASA believes some debris caused the sensor issue but it's unknown what the debris was.