Meet the NASA astronauts who will be first to launch on Boeing’s spaceship


Two NASA astronauts are set to become the first in history to launch into space aboard a Boeing spaceship.

Astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams are slated to pilot the company’s Starliner capsule on its first crewed test flight to the International Space Station on May 6.

They arrived Thursday at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where both will remain until the launch.

“This is where the rubber meets the road, where we are going to leave this planet, and that is pretty darn cool,” Williams said in a post-arrival news briefing.

The long-delayed mission will be crucial in demonstrating that Boeing’s spacecraft can safely ferry a crew to and from low-Earth orbit. If successful, it will be a key step forward for the company, which eventually plans to join the ranks of SpaceX in conducting routine flights to and from the space station for NASA.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is lifted at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 4, 2022. Frank Michaux / NASA

The test flight will be closely watched, because software glitches and issues with the Starliner’s fuel valves have already pushed the mission years behind schedule. Boeing’s separate aviation arm has also been under intense scrutiny after a panel blew out on one of its 737 Max 9 planes midflight earlier this year, raising questions about quality-control practices at the company.

Wilmore said the delays leading up to this launch were necessary to ensure that the Starliner capsule was prepared to carry people into space.

“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t ready,” he said. “We are ready. The spacecraft’s ready, and the teams are ready.”

Officials from NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance, which manufactures the Atlas V rocket on which the Starliner capsule will launch, met Thursday and signed off on the May 6 liftoff attempt.

Mission managers with NASA, Boeing, and United Launch Alliance.
Mission managers with NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance gather on April 25 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.Mike Chambers / NASA

Then on Friday, the astronauts completed a full launch-day dress rehearsal. They will now spend the next week working on last-minute preparations and training exercises, according to NASA.

If the crew successfully reaches the International Space Station, the astronauts will spend about a week there before returning to Earth.

Wilmore and Williams are both veteran astronauts and former test pilots in the U.S. Navy. NASA selected the pair in 2022 for Boeing’s first crewed test flight.

Wilmore, the mission’s commander, has completed two previous spaceflights, logging 178 days in space. A Tennessee native, he piloted the space shuttle Atlantis to the space station in 2009, and also launched to the orbiting outpost aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2014 as a member of the space station’s Expedition 41 crew.

Butch Wilmore, left, and Suni Williams.
Wilmore, left, and Williams arrive in Florida on April 25. NASA

Williams, the mission’s pilot, previously completed two stints aboard the International Space Station, totaling 322 days in space.

She grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, and first flew to the ISS on the space shuttle Discovery and remained there for about six months. In 2012, Williams returned to space, this time in a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. Her second stay on the space station lasted roughly four months.

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