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ULA’s Atlas-5 launches Boeing’s Starliner capsule on its first manned mission

After many delays and scrubs involving both the rocket and the capsule, ULA’s Atlas-5 rocket today successfully launched Boeing’s Starliner capsule on its first manned mission, carrying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

I have embedded the live stream below, cued to just before liftoff. The spacecraft will dock with ISS tomorrow, where Wilmore and Williams will spend a week checking out the capsule’s operations before undocking and returning to Earth.

As this was only the third launch this year for ULA, the leader board for the 2024 launch race doesn’t change:

59 SpaceX
26 China
8 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the world combined in successful launches, 69 to 40, while SpaceX by itself leads the entire world, including other American companies, 59 to 50.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • TL

    Congrats to ULA and Boeing for finally getting this launched successfully. Watching the video (on mute) though a couple things stuck out compared to a SpaceX launch video.

    First was how much more professional and polished the SpaceX videos are. NASA’s video shows a progress bar a the bottom, but it doesn’t move until it suddenly jumps when the next labeled event is about to happen. It also doesn’t show any of the interesting data (altitude, speed, acceleration) on screen until it jumps to a computer animation.

    Second thing that stuck out was seeing how many parts were just being thrown away. Solid boosters, first stage, fairing, all seen cast aside during the launch. Funny to me how what used to be the expected process now seems like littering.

  • pzatchok

    Well Space X has had a few dozen chances to improve their telecast.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The difference between SpaceX and ULA launches that strikes me is the amount of verbose chatter devoted to coordination and verification.

    A technophobe relative of mine says that ULA sounds “more professional”.

    I retorted that they sound more like engineers trying to launch old-tech rockets using TRS-80 command consoles.

  • geoffc

    @Pzatchok: You wrote:
    “Well Space X has had a few dozen chances to improve their telecast.”

    Actually SpaceX has had a dozen DOZEN chances to improve their telecast.
    340 someodd total flight by 12 = 28. So 2 and a half dozen dozen times.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Lets hope the rest of their flight goes as smooth.

    Some of the previous flight issues were not discovered right away.

  • James Street

    I was worried about this one. Congratulations to everyone involved.

    At 4:14:00 they said they were throttling it back to 3 – 1/2 Gs. I wondered how that compared to the Gravitron carnival ride.

    “All in all, your body inside a Gravitron is pinned to the wall by forces that feel as strong as 3 g, or three times the normal force of gravity, according to NASA. That force is similar to what astronauts feel as they rocket into space. An astronaut can experience up to 3.2 g’s at launch and 1.4 g’s upon reentry.”

  • Mitch S.

    So far it’s been a good day mostly for ULA. Atlas 5/Centaur did it’s job as usual.
    At this point the Russians have more to celebrate than Boeing. The Russian engines did their job. Starliner has more to do to prove itself, notably docking and reentry.
    The patience the Starliner team has shown gives me some confidence the mission will come to a safe, successful conclusion.
    Hope my confidence is proven well placed!

  • Jeff Wright

    Well, maybe they can watch Starship launch out a porthole…

  • TL observed: “Funny to me how what used to be the expected process now seems like littering.”

    Indeed. Chinese launchers start shedding parts before they clear the tower. You would think this alone would endear SpaceX to the Administration, following Green practices, as it does. What we need is an image of Iron Eyes Cody watching a NASA launch, a single tear running down his face.

  • sippin_bourbon

    “What we need is an image of Iron Eyes Cody… ”

    The Italian guy?

  • Most interesting part was 13+00 to orbit vice the 8+00 SpaceX does. Why does ULA need an extra 5 minutes? Cheers –

  • sippin_bourbon

    Apparently, 1st attempt at docking was aborted.

    They are holding for a second attempt.

  • sippin_bourbon


    I seem to remember one of the youtube experts saying this is because of the Centaur stage. It is reliable and efficient, but not powerful and takes more time. It is a long slow burn, vs short hard burn.
    By staying shallow as it builds speed provides better options for abort mode through the entire launch envelope.

    Either Tim Dodd or Scott Manley discussed it, I believe.

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