Updated June 1st, 2024 at 23:43 IST

Boeing's First Astronaut Flight Called Off at the Last Minute in Latest Setback

Though the Boeing Starliner launch was delayed at the last minute, it is possible another launch may be attempted as soon as Sunday, June 2.

The Starliner launch was halted again on Saturday just moments before dust-off. | Image:AP
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Cape Canaveral: A last-minute problem nixed Saturday’s launch attempt for Boeing’s first astronaut flight, the latest in a string of delays over the years. Two NASA astronauts were strapped in the company’s Starliner capsule when the countdown automatically was halted at 3 minutes and 50 seconds by the computer system that controls the final minutes before liftoff.

With only a split second to take off, there was no time to work the latest trouble and everything was called off. It was not immediately clear why the computers aborted the countdown.

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Launch controllers were evaluating the data, said United Launch Alliance’s Dillon Rice. But it's possible the team could try again as soon as Sunday, depending on what went wrong.

Technicians raced to the pad to help astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams out of the capsule atop the fully fueled Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Within an hour of the launch abort, the hatch was reopened.

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It was the second launch attempt. The first try on May 6 was delayed for leak checks and rocket repairs. NASA wants a backup to SpaceX, which has been flying astronauts since 2020.

Boeing should have launched its first crew around the same time as SpaceX, but its first test flight with no one on board in 2019 was plagued by severe software issues and never made it to the space station.

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A redo in 2022 fared better, but parachute problems and flammable later caused more delays. A small helium leak in the capsule's propulsion system last month came on top of a rocket valve issue.

More valve trouble cropped up two hours before Saturday's planned liftoff, but the team used a backup circuit to get the ground-equipment valves working to top off the fuel for the rocket's upper stage. Launch controllers were relieved to keep pushing ahead, but the computer system known as the ground launch sequencer ended the effort.

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“Of course, this is emotionally disappointing,” NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, the backup pilot, said from neighbouring Kennedy Space Centre.

But he said delays are part of spaceflight. “We're going to have a great launch in our future.”

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Published June 1st, 2024 at 23:43 IST