KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The newest space capsule designed to carry people, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, rolled out of its manufacturing building and headed toward a launch pad Thursday morning at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"It's been a long time since a spaceship rolled out of that building. This is the beginning of a trip to space," said Bob Cabana, the space center director.
Employees who gathered before dawn at Boeing's facility there said they were proud of the program and the nation when they saw the capsule appear.
"Words can't describe how I feel," said Ramon Sanchez, senior operations lead for Boeing. "It's a sense of tremendous pride, not just for the Boeing Co., but for the United States as a whole."
He said employees and their families had worked long hours to get this far. "They understand we have the weight of the nation on our shoulders," Sanchez said.
The rollout of the fully fueled capsule occurred shortly after 6 a.m., delayed for minor reasons for about two hours.
Starliner is scheduled to launch Dec. 17 for its first orbital flight, an uncrewed test mission. Boeing successfully tested the capsule abort system Nov. 4 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The testing advances NASA's efforts to bring back human spaceflight for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Since then, the United States has relied on buying seats for astronauts on Russian Soyuz capsules to reach the International Space Station.
Starliner is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program to develop flights to the space station through public-private partnerships. Boeing is essentially competing with SpaceX, which has been testing its Crew Dragon capsule.
SpaceX and Boeing are more than two years behind original contract schedules.
The earlier abort test saw Starliner accelerate to about 650 mph in five seconds, verifying that the engines and thrusters are capable of firing in the event of an emergency while astronauts are sitting on the launch pad or ascending.
"It's been a long time since we've launched out of the United States," NASA astronaut Mike Fincke said after the test. He's one of three astronauts designated to fly on Starliner with Nicole Mann and Chris Ferguson.