A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Boeing Starliner crew capsule on an Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force station Friday in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Photo: Terry Renna/Associated Press
Photo: Terry Renna/Associated Press

Historic Starliner launch lights up Georgia skies

Boeing’s historic launch of its Starliner capsule lit up Georgia skies Friday morning, illuminating what U.S. officials hope is a new era in spaceflight.

Several metro Atlanta social media users saw the Starliner streak across their pre-dawn skies. The capsule, which Boeing hopes will carry a manned crew to the International Space Station sometime next year, launched at 6:36 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

 

The Starliner carried Christmas treats and presents for the six ISS residents; hundreds of tree seeds similar to those that flew to the moon on Apollo 14; the original air travel ID card belonging to Boeing’s founder; and a mannequin named Rosie in the commander’s seat.

 

The test dummy — named after the biceps-flexing riveter of World War II — wore a red polka dot hair bandanna just like the original Rosie and Boeing’s custom royal blue spacesuit.

Piloting the ship alongside Rosie was a stuffed Snoopy doll in full astronaut gear.

 

However, the spacecraft burned too much fuel while trying to insert itself into earth orbit. NASA officials said Friday morning the capsule will remain in orbit but will miss its ISS rendezvous. 

The mission has been cut short to only 48 hours, instead of an eight-day mission to the ISS.

This was Boeing’s chance to catch up with SpaceX, NASA's other commercial crew provider that completed a similar demonstration last March. SpaceX has one last hurdle — a launch abort test — before carrying two NASA astronauts in its Dragon capsule, possibly by spring.

 

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carried the capsule. The rocket was visible for at least five minutes, its white contrail a brilliant contrast against the dark sky. Thousands of spectators jammed the area.

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It’s been nearly nine years since NASA astronauts have launched from American spaceports. The space agency handed over station deliveries to private businesses, first cargo and then crews, in order to focus on getting astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars.

Commercial cargo ships took flight in 2012, starting with SpaceX. 

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