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Excitement Builds for Boeing's 1st Starliner Test Launch Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.  — The debut test flight of a Boeing Starliner astronaut taxi for NASA is ready to fly, with great weather expected for its launch to the International Space Station Friday (Dec. 20). 

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the uncrewed CST-100 Starliner spacecraft from Space Launch Compex 41 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station just before sunrise on Friday. Liftoff is set for 6:36 a.m. EST (1136 GMT).

"It's just incredibly proud and humbling to be here this week. It's really a culmination of years of really hard work by integrated NASA, Boeing and ULA teams," John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew program, said in a prelaunch news conference at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today (Dec. 17). "This is really setting up to be a really incredible week."

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An Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing's first Starliner spacecraft rolls out to the launchpad at Space Launch Complex 41 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 11, 2019. The mission will launch on Dec. 20, 2019. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

Starliner's upcoming flight, called the Orbital Flight Test,  will launch an anthropomorphic test dummy named Rosie (named after the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter) amid 595 lbs. (270 kilograms) of cargo to the station, including radiation monitoring equipment, clothing, food and holiday presents to the station. The spacecraft will dock at the orbiting lab, then return to Earth around Dec. 28. The weeklong mission should serve as a shakedown cruise for future crewed flights of Starliner capsules for NASA.

Boeing is one of two commercial companies (SpaceX is the other) with multi-billion-dollar contracts to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station on commercial spaceships. NASA picked the two companies to be its commercial crew providers in 2014 to relieve the U.S. agency's dependence on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to fly Americans into space. The U.S. has relied on Soyuz vehicles since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in 2011. 

"I am really looking forward to the maiden voyage of the Boeing Starliner this Friday," Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program, said at the news conference.

Related: How Boeing's Commercial CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft Works

Lueders described the uncrewed mission as "a gift, they [uncrewed flights like this] give us the opportunity to really see how the integrated system works through all the phases of flights, but also, more importantly, it helps us as a joint team. How we're gonna work together and get ourselves ready for our crewed mission coming up." 

While strong winds and chilly weather might be blowing around in Florida this week, current predictions suggest that there is an 80% chance that the weather will be suitable for a safe liftoff. 

"All l things considered,things are looking fairly good for the week's end," Will Ulrich, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. " If the launch is delayed, however, Boeing can make another launch attempt on on Saturday (Dec. 21) and Monday (Dec. 23), if needed.  

This mission will be a critical test in anticipation of Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT), which will be the first crewed mission for Starliner

Following its Friday launch, Starliner is scheduled to dock early on Saturday at about 8:27 EST (1327 GMT)). After about a week up in space, the craft will make a quick trip home on Dec. 28, with undocking to landing taking just a little over four hours, Boeing representatives said.

"We are actually tracking no spacecraft anomalies ... the spacecraft is in really good shape," Mulholland said. "We're Looking forward to a really short, quick and successful mission."

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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