HOUSTON – Inside the Johnson Space Center's vehicle mock-up room sits a life-size model of Boeing's crew space CST-100 Starliner which will take astronauts to the International Space Station form American soil as soon as this year. Boeing flight director Richard Jones knows the inner workings of the Starliner and works with the astronauts. Jones is also a link between two generations of NASA space programs. As a shuttle flight director, he gave the go ahead command for the final shuttle launch in 2011. That experience will now be utilized as he directs flight operations for the next generation of space exploration. The Starliner's ride into space will be the Atlas V rocket, which has dozens of successful launches under its belt. The Atlas V will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Atlas V has carried other precious cargo to space, although the Starliner will be its first time carrying humans.
Boeing has an agreement with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to provide flight control and facility expertise in managing missions of the Starliner and ULA Atlas V rocket. “It's a capsule,” Jones said. “It's got seats within it that can take that crew back and forth to the space station. It can carry cargo. It's very functional from the standpoint that it's a capsule. It's maneuverable just like any spacecraft. But once it's in the atmosphere maybe that's where it's a little bit different from others.” While the Starliner is a capsule and bears a striking resemblance to the Apollo spacecraft used to send humans to the moon, that's where the similarities end. For one, Starliner is designed to return on land instead of splashing down in the ocean. Parachutes and airbags will help soften the landing.
Unlike the Apollo capsule, Starliner will be reuseable up to 10 times and can hold up to seven astronauts. Space shuttles were the most complex machines ever built by man and had around 3,000 switches and required a full crew to operate. The Starliner is built to be autonomous and has just 67 switches, leaving astronauts time to focus more on the mission. Inside the Starliner you get a feel for what the astronauts have to do and the space where they have to do it. For the untrained, getting in and out of the space vehicle wasn’t that bad. Once inside, though, the astronauts are going to feel pretty close. However, from launch to docking at the International Space Station takes six hours not days. Currently, all the astronaut training is now focusing on the mission to the space station. Jones said he is thankful for those who came before him in the space program. “The giants of spaceflight effectively that built the foundation on how we do operations, how to think about operations, how to get through problems,” Jones said, adding that all helps the current space industry “be successful -- we’re standing on their shoulders.”