The rocket that will launch Boeing's first crewed mission for NASA is now in Florida.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster that will loft Boeing's Crew Flight Test (CFT) arrived at Cape Canaveral on Sunday (June 20), ULA representatives said via Twitter. The huge rocket made the journey by boat from Decatur, Alabama, where the company's rocket factory is located.
CFT, which is targeted to lift off late this year from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, will be the first crewed mission that Boeing flies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Agency astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke will fly aboard Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule to the orbiting lab and live there for several months.
#Starliner @Commercial_Crew astronauts, your rocket has arrived.The @ulalaunch Atlas V that will launch the CFT crew to the International Space Station is now on Florida’s Space Coast for processing. pic.twitter.com/iQz64zVE73June 21, 2021
The Atlas V was unloaded and hauled to the launch site by truck today (June 21), Boeing representatives said. (ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.) That was a big moment for the CFT mission, and two crewmembers were on hand to take it in.
"[Two of] #Starliner's first crew members, NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and @AstroIronMike, are on the ground to welcome the Atlas V that will launch them to the @Space_Station," Boeing representatives said via Twitter this morning (June 21), as a caption to a photo showing Wilmore and Fincke among a crowd of hard-hatted rocket greeters.
CFT will be the third orbital mission for Starliner and its second trip to the ISS, if all goes according to plan. The capsule first launched toward the orbiting lab in December 2019, on the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test 1 (OFT-1). Starliner suffered a few glitches, however, and failed to meet up with the ISS as planned.
Boeing is gearing up for its second crack at an uncrewed ISS trip; OFT-2 is scheduled to launch on July 30. If all goes well with that flight, the company can focus on sending Wilmore, Mann and Fincke up on CFT, which is targeted for late 2021.
CFT will be the first crewed flight ever for the Atlas V, a workhorse rocket that has launched many high-profile payloads over the years, including NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling probe and InSight Mars lander.
In September 2014, NASA's Commercial Crew Program selected Boeing and SpaceX to fly agency astronauts to and from the ISS. The two companies' private astronaut taxis are filling the shoes of NASA's space shuttle program, which retired in 2011 after 30 years of orbital service.
SpaceX has already ferried astronauts to the ISS three times using its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. Elon Musk's company launched the Demo-2 test mission in May 2020 and then launched two operational missions, known as Crew-1 and Crew-2, in November 2020 and April of this year, respectively.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.