Finally, The Starliner Launches

June 06, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

I've been chasing this rocket for some time, made it to two of its previous launch attempts only to be scrubbed... until this day, June 5, 2024. Along with a crowd of other spectators on Playalinda Beach on Canaveral National Seashore, the Starliner lifted off from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. By the time this launch attempt arrived, many of us had seen each other before and shared the anticipation of the countdown. There were so many people on the beach streaming the live feed, it was nearly impossible to maintain a cell signal. We counted on each other to update the collection of photographers all huddled together aiming for the same shot, their chance to record history through their lens. As countdown proceeded and milestones were checked off, one would shout out to the crowd the progress and successes, leading to small sporadic cheers. Near the 5-minute mark, the anticipation was thicker than the salty humid Florida air. The crowd hushed and held a collective breath. The energy was undeniable, as if we all knew today would be the day for a successful launch, but we wouldn't know until we saw the first billows of smoke on the distant pad, and the searing bright glow of the engine ignition. The crowed exploded in turn with screams and cheers. The Atlas V rose off the pad in an awe-inspiring fashion, leaving its unmistakable plume beneath, lifting two humans toward space with magnificent thrust. It was humbling to witness this history so closely, and to be able to hear the deep crackling roar overtake the noise of the crowd.

This launch was important to me for several reasons; its historic, being the first launch of humans from Cape Canaveral (not to be confused with Kennedy Space Center) since 1968, it is Boeing's first launch of humans to space, and it is on an Atlas V rocket (my favorite to photograph). This test mission has been delayed for several years while the team worked out different challenges. One of the most recent being a scrub due to a helium leak detected on the capsule which was later deemed safe to proceed. At the time of writing this post, with the crew orbiting Earth, the team has learned of more helium leaks and are working out possible fixes. Keep in mind, this is a test flight and challenges were expected.

The Boeing Starliner is a class of partially reusable spacecraft designed to transport crew to the International Space Station and other low-Earth-orbit destinations. It is manufactured by Boeing, with the Commercial Crew Program of NASA as the lead customer. It was launched on an Atlas V rocket by United Launch Alliance. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will crew the Starliner capsule on a 10-day mission to the International Space Station, testing Starliner's capabilities to determine if it will be able to fly more crewed missions. It also is bringing an important piece of equipment to ISS to repair their faulty urine processor assembly, which processes urine into drinking water.
 

Click on the images below to see a larger version and to see more rocket photos.

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