If you live along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, you've got a decent shot at seeing a historic rocket launch early tomorrow morning (Dec. 20), weather permitting.
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing's first Starliner crew capsule is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:36 a.m. EST (1136 GMT). You can watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA.
The Atlas V will head northeast from Cape Canaveral, potentially providing glimpses of the rocket to coastal folks all the way up through New England, according to a visibility map tweeted out by ULA.
And 6:36 a.m. EST is a very nice time to view a launch at this time of year, said Will Ulrich, Launch Weather Officer with the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral.
"That's about 30 minutes before sunrise, which should make for a very picturesque launch if I can provide you guys with some clear skies," Ulrich said during a prelaunch news conference on Tuesday (Dec. 17). "With it still being dark at the surface, the sun will still be coming up aloft. So, we expect some very picturesque images to come out of Friday's launch."
That launch will kick off Orbital Flight Test (OFT), Starliner's first visit to the International Space Station (ISS). The eight-day, uncrewed OFT is a crucial milestone on the path to crewed flight for Starliner, which Boeing has been developing to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the orbiting lab.
If all goes well with OFT, Boeing will start preparing for a crewed test flight to the ISS. Operational, contracted missions would then follow.
Like Boeing, SpaceX holds a commercial crew deal with NASA, which the California-based company will fulfill using its Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. Crew Dragon flew its version of OFT this past March, acing a six-day uncrewed trip to the ISS known as Demo-1.
SpaceX is now prepping for an in-flight abort (IFA) test in January, which will showcase Crew Dragon's ability to get out of harm's way in the event of a launch emergency. A successful IFA would clear the way for Demo-2, SpaceX's crewed demonstration flight to the ISS.
- Atlas V: Reliable, Flexible Rocket
- Boeing's CST-100 Starliner Space Capsule (Infographic)
- In Photos: Boeing's Starliner Pad Abort Test Launch
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.