Boeing’s Starliner capsule is built to carry astronauts. It’s one of NASA’s two big bets on commercial crew vehicles, with the other being SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The race between Boeing and SpaceX has been well documented, and both companies have seen their fair share of setbacks. Now, with 2019 winding down, both NASA and Boeing say that Starliner is ready to fly a very important test mission on Friday.
The launch will see Boeing’s Starliner travel from Earth to the International Space Station, and while it won’t be carrying any human travelers this time around, it will indeed have a passenger.
Along for the ride will be an astronaut “test dummy” named Rosie. Rosie is packed with sensors that will collect data during the flight. Those instruments will tell NASA and Boeing how many G-forces a real-life astronaut might be exposed to during launch, flight, and then reentry, which should give NASA confidence that the Starliner is inching closer to being suitable for manned spaceflight.
Ultimately, NASA needs a way to send astronauts to the International Space Station. The space program has been leaning heavily on Russia’s Roscosmos for help sending its crew members into space for many years. Paying fees to Russia for seats aboard its rockets isn’t ideal for NASA, and NASA had hoped that either Crew Dragon or Starliner would have been ready by this point.
The launch on Friday will see Starliner travel to the ISS and dock with the space station. Along with Rosie, the capsule will be carrying hundreds of pounds of supplies and even some holiday gifts. The spacecraft will remain docked to the ISS over Christmas before eventually returning to Earth on December 28th.