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May 6, 2024

Sunita Williams Prepares for Historic Voyage as Boeing’s Starliner Sets Course for ISS

Sunita Williams, the Indian-origin astronaut, is poised to make history once again as she embarks on a monumental journey to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. Alongside fellow Nasa astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Williams will undertake the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, marking Starliner’s first crewed flight to the ISS.

Scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, at 22:34 local time on Monday, this mission signifies a significant milestone in space exploration. The pair will ride atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, signifying Boeing’s entrance into the realm of crew transportation to and from the ISS, alongside SpaceX.

Boeing’s Starliner has faced its share of challenges, with delays pushing its inaugural crewed flight to the present. Originally slated for an uncrewed test flight in 2015, technical glitches postponed the mission until 2019. Subsequent attempts in 2021 and 2022 were also delayed due to various issues, including propulsion system malfunctions and concerns about thruster performance.

However, industry insiders assure that Nasa and Boeing have diligently addressed these issues to ensure a safe and successful mission. The space agency would not have authorized astronaut participation unless all glitches had been rectified.

The success of Boeing’s Starliner would solidify its position as a viable option for Nasa’s Commercial Crew Programme, which aims to utilize commercial services for crew transportation, relinquishing ownership and operation of such vehicles.

The Starliner spacecraft, with its rear service module, stands at 5 meters in height and 4.6 meters in width, surpassing the capsules used in the Apollo missions. It boasts a capacity for up to seven astronauts, designed for reusability, capable of undertaking up to 10 flights.

During the journey to the ISS, Williams and Wilmore will evaluate the spacecraft’s systems, conduct seat tests, and trial newly developed spacesuits. Williams, a veteran astronaut with two previous missions under her belt, will don Boeing’s latest blue suit, featuring touchscreen-sensitive gloves for enhanced interaction with spacecraft systems.

Williams’ career has been marked by significant milestones. During her previous missions, she conducted multiple spacewalks, setting records for female astronauts. Her dedication to space exploration has earned her respect and admiration within the international space community.

Departing from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 14, 2012, Williams embarked on her second journey, spending a total of 322 days in space over the course of her two missions. Her contributions to scientific research and her achievements in spacewalks have solidified her place in the annals of space exploration history.

As Sunita Williams and Barry Wilmore prepare to make their mark on space history, the world watches with anticipation, eager to witness the next chapter in human space exploration unfold.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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