No 'jitters' for NASA astronauts preparing to launch on Boeing Starliner spacecraft

Two Navy test pilots who became NASA astronauts will take their ultimate flight Monday as they will be the first to launch on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station. 

More than a decade in the making, the crew test flight with NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore marks the final milestone for Boeing's spacecraft designed to fly humans to and from the space station. 

NASA and Boeing plan to launch the Starliner on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10:34 p.m. ET Monday.

"I sort of have to pinch myself a little bit to understand we're actually going," Williams said on Wednesday.


Both astronauts are retired Navy captains who plan to use their test pilot training to fly the Starliner for the first time. 


NASA astronauts Suni Williams (right) and Barry "Butch" Wilmore (left) are the Boeing Crew Flight Test astronauts. (NASA)

"That background of understanding test acquisition, what's required to certify various components, the integration of the various systems together, the vital importance of making sure that in an integrated fashion, everything works as planned," Wilmore said. "I think that's been invaluable for the process."

This will make their third spaceflight after flying on NASA's space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Wilmore said getting to launch week required more involvement than their previous two spacecraft launches because they have been there for testing and development. 

"Those are established training programs built on years and years of experience. This has not been that," Wilmore said. "This has been a developmental process where we've been involved, ensconced in that process all the way from hardware and software evaluations in the simulator. We've got our fingerprints on every single procedure that exists for this spacecraft."

Astronauts: Starliner ‘safe’ to fly

Boeing's crew test flight (CFT) comes two years after a crewless Starliner launched to the ISS and returned to Earth during an orbital flight test (OFT). 

Starliner was set to launch Williams and Wilmore last summer, but Boeing managers revealed new issues with the spacecraft after further examining data from Starliner's OFT in May 2022. The OFT in 2022 was a repeat test flight from a botched attempt in 2019 that ended without docking at the ISS. 

Both astronauts said they didn't have any pre-launch "jitters." Williams said she is excited to share the opportunity with her friends and family, who will arrive before the launch date. 


NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test astronaut Suni Williams flashes a thumbs up after exiting the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a mission dress rehearsal on Friday, April 26, 2024

"We've got it to a point – all of us, a big team – that we feel very safe and comfortable with how the spacecraft flies," Williams said. "We're going to find new things, write those things down, relay all that and fix it for the next time the spacecraft flies."

The veteran space flyers say it's a rare honor to be the first to fly in a new vehicle. Wilmore reflected on a famous alum from NASA's astronaut office, John Young, another Navy test pilot who commanded the first space shuttle mission, STS-1, and flew on the first Gemini mission. 

"To be able to follow along and do something that he did is just very humbling," Wilmore said. "It certainly is because he was a test pilot. He was the astronaut's astronaut, so to speak, and even to be in a position to do something similar to what he did is just really – it's really amazing."


From left to right, NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore pose in front of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft in the early morning of Tuesday, April 16, 2024, outside the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the agency’s Ke

A successful crew test flight will culminate about a week after Starliner arrives at the ISS. The spacecraft will undock from the ISS and bring Williams and Wilmore home, landing in the Southwest desert. 

Williams said this isn't just about one successful astronaut flight but the ones to come. Both astronauts said they feel responsible for future astronauts flying on Starliner.