ORLANDO, Fla. – Ahead of Boeing’s first launch of its astronaut capsule, Starliner, NASA’s top official Jim Bridenstine and astronaut Suni Williams spoke to News 6 about the importance of the historic mission blasting off from Florida’s Space Coast.
The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch Friday from Cape Canaveral atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. After launch, the spacecraft will autonomously dock at the International Space Station and then return to Earth, landing in the New Mexico desert.
The launch is a crucial step in certifying to fly astronauts. Both Boeing and SpaceX -- with the Crew Dragon spacecraft -- have been working since 2014 toward NASA certification to carry humans as part of the Commercial Crew Program.
NASA has forked out $84 million a seat paying Russia since 2011 to launch U.S. astronauts.
On Thursday, Bridenstine and the astronauts who will fly on Starliner as soon as next year spoke to reporters at Kennedy Space Center about the U.S. space program, including NASA’s moon program, Artemis, and the Commercial Crew Program.
“We need to get back to flying humans again,” Bridenstine said, adding that the gap in spaceflight from American soil is a stain on the U.S. record.
"We have not launched American astronauts, on American Rockets since the end of the space shuttle, Bridenstine said.
This time, NASA is a customer instead of the launch and spacecraft provider, Bridenstine said.
“We’re buying a service, NASA wants to be one customer of many,” he said, adding “The goal is to have more access to space than ever before.”
For Williams, an experienced astronaut who has spent more than 322 days in space via the space shuttle and Russian Soyuz spacecraft, flying Starliner will be a totally different experience. The spacecraft is designed to autonomously dock and undock from the International Space Station.
“It’s a new innovative spacecraft and rocket that has a lot more automation than I’ve seen in the past and so that situational awareness with how the operator interacts with the spacecraft is brand new," Williams said.
Williams and her fellow commercial crew astronauts will be watching the launch Friday morning along with the rest of Florida.
“I can feel the launch fever,” Williams said. “I’m just psyched.”
Watch the full interview at the top of this story.