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Boeing's Commercial SpacecraftThe Boeing CST-100 Starliner is one of two commercial spacecraft types that NASA plans to use for International Space Station flights. (The other spacecraft is SpaceX's Dragon.) NASA currently uses Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry its astronauts into space, an arrangement that has persisted since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Much of the development money for the Starliner came through various phases of NASA's commercial crew program, which aims to launch astronauts again from American soil. Boeing received $4.2 billion under the latest phase of the program — Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) — in September 2014. SpaceX got $2.6 billion at the same time.
Boeing has been a part of the United States space program since the very beginning, starting with developing the Mercury spacecraft in the early 1960s. Its current contributions to human spaceflight (besides Starliner) include the next-generation Space Launch System rocket to carry astronauts out of low Earth orbit, and serving as the prime integrator for the International Space Station.
Here's a brief overview of how the Starliner works.
Spacecraft size and astronautsSlide 2 of 13
Spacecraft size and astronautsThe Starliner is designed to fit up to seven astronauts, although the configuration could change depending on how much cargo the spacecraft would carry. The spacecraft even has wireless internet for crew communications and entertainment; the internet will also be useful when docking with the International Space Station, Boeing representatives have said.
Astronauts inside the spacecraft will wear Boeing blue spacesuits as they operate the controls. (Blue also happens to be a color Boeing uses in many of its designs, including elements of the spacecraft's interior.) Boeing's astronaut wear includes Reebok-inspired shoes, gloves that can manipulate touch screens, and a lighter and less bulky spacesuit designed for launch and re-entry.
The Starliner has a diameter of 15 feet (4.5 meters); a length of 16.5 feet (5 m), which includes the service module; and a volume of about 390 cubic feet (11 cubic md).Slide 3 of 13
Atlas V rocket launcherSlide 4 of 13
Atlas V rocket launcherThe Starliner's ride into space will be the Atlas V rocket, which has dozens of successful launches under its belt and no complete failures; that makes it the most reliable rocket type worldwide. Initially, the Atlas V was operated by Lockheed Martin, but now it is managed by a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture called United Launch Alliance.
The Atlas V has carried other precious cargo to space, although the Starliner will be its first to carry humans. Some of the Atlas V's past missions include the New Horizons probe that flew past Pluto, the Mars Curiosity rover and the mysterious X-37B military space plane. The rocket is 205 feet (62.5 m) tall and can carry up to 45,240 pounds (20,520 kg) to low Earth orbit. With the Starliner on board, the Atlas V will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in FloridaSlide 5 of 13
Operations on the International Space StationSlide 6 of 13
Operations on the International Space StationWhen the Starliner approaches the International Space Station, the docking will be fully autonomous as the spacecraft maneuvers toward an adapted docking port for commercial spacecraft. The idea is to free up astronauts for other things during the final approach to the space station. But in an emergency, the Starliner has backup manual controls for the pilot to steer the spacecraft to the station.
Once the Starliner is attached to the space station, it's designed to stay there for 210 days — ample time to allow for the usual crew stays of six months, or 180 days. Once it heads back to Earth, the spacecraft and its landing systems are fully reusable for another go into space, although the crew will need a fresh Atlas V rocket to take them there.Slide 7 of 13
Emergency escape systemsSlide 8 of 13