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Mike Wall

Boeing Starliner's 1st astronaut mission delayed to May at the earliest

The Starliner team works to finalize the mate of the crew module and new service module for NASA's Boeing Crew Flight Test that will take NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Sunita "Suni" Williams to and from the International Space Station.

Boeing's new astronaut taxi won't launch on its first crewed mission next month after all.

Boeing and NASA had been targeting the second half of April for Crew Flight Test (CFT), which will carry two astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the private Starliner capsule. But that plan has now changed.

"We're adjusting the @Space_Station schedule including the launch date for our Boeing Crew Flight Test as teams assess readiness and complete verification work. CFT now will launch following Axiom Mission 2 for optimized station operations," NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said via Twitter on Thursday (March 23).

Axiom Mission 2, or Ax-2 for short, will be the second crewed mission to the ISS operated by Houston-based company Axiom Space. It will employ a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, as Ax-1 did in April 2022, and is tentatively scheduled to launch in early May.

NASA will share target launch dates for both Ax-2 and CFT soon, Lueders said in another Thursday tweet. "As always, we will fly when we are ready," she added.

Related: Starliner: Boeing's next-generation spaceship for astronauts

Like SpaceX, Boeing holds a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program to provide taxi services to and from the ISS. SpaceX recently launched the sixth operational astronaut flight under its contract, but Boeing is still getting Starliner up to speed.

Starliner does have one successful spaceflight under its belt — an uncrewed jaunt called Orbital Flight Test 2, which spent about a week docked to the ISS in May 2022. 

CFT is an even bigger test for Starliner. The mission will lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, sending NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the ISS for a roughly two-week stay.

If Starliner succeeds on CFT, NASA will likely certify it for regular astronaut missions, officially welcoming another private crewed spacecraft into the American fleet.

Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore (at right) and pilot Suni Williams outside the Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 18, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Ax-2, by the way, will send four people to the ISS — former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson; investor John Shoffner; and Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, both members of Saudi Arabia's inaugural astronaut class. The latter duo will become the first Saudis to travel to the ISS. 

Whitson, who's now a consultant for Axiom Space, will command the Ax-2 mission. She has spent more time in space (665 days) than any other American.

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 @Spacedotcom, or on Facebook and Instagram. 

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