Boeing is set to launch NASA astronauts for the first time after years of struggle

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Boeing counted down for its first astronaut launch on Monday after years of struggle.

NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams were set to climb into Boeing’s Starliner capsule for a nighttime liftoff from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station for a weeklong stay.

NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX a decade ago to ferry astronauts to and from the space station after the shuttle program ended, paying the private companies billions of dollars. SpaceX has been in the orbital taxi business since 2020.

“We always look for a backup,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said before the flight.

Starliner’s debut test flight without a crew in 2019 ended up in the wrong orbit and failed to reach the space station, forcing Boeing to repeat the demo before astronauts could fly. Following more reviews last year, the company had to fix the capsule’s parachutes and yank out a mile of flammable tape.

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