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NASA to livestream key Boeing Starliner spaceship test

We'll get to see one of the spacecraft NASA hopes to use to send astronauts to orbit fly on Monday.

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Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and its service module sit atop the test stand at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico ahead of the company's Pad Abort Test. 

Boeing

You can watch a big test of Boeing's new Starliner spacecraft Monday as NASA pushes to bring crewed spaceflight launches back to US soil for the first time in nearly a decade. The CST-100 Starliner currently sits on a test stand at New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range awaiting a pad abort test scheduled for 6 a.m. PT. The test is designed to ensure that the ship's four abort engines and control thrusters will fire in the case of an emergency on the launch pad, carrying the capsule and astronauts up and away from the potential danger. 

Put another way, should there be risk of an explosion or something else really bad happening on the launch pad, the abort system being tested Monday is essentially the crew's life raft. During the test, the engines should carry the empty spacecraft about one mile into the air and a mile north of the test stand before parachutes and landing airbags are deployed for a soft touch down. 

Starliner is one of two new spacecraft that NASA has contracted to begin flying astronauts to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew program. The other is the SpaceX Crew Dragon; both crafts have faced delays in the development and testing process, prompting NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to apply some public pressure.

Notably, Bridenstine seemed to deliver a public jab before SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's long-awaited update on the company's new Starship vehicle designed to carry humans to the moon and Mars.

"NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It's time to deliver," Bridenstine tweeted Sept. 27, one day before Musk's presentation.

Bridenstine again cited the interest of the American taxpayer in his announcement that Boeing's Starliner test on Monday would be streamed live.

"Thank you to @BoeingSpace. At my request, Monday's @Commercial_Crew Starliner pad abort test will be broadcast live. Transparency for the taxpayer," Bridenstine tweeted. 

NASA's interest in getting Commercial Crew off the ground and into orbit isn't just about fiscal responsibility. NASA is almost out of seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft that it has reserved from the Roscosmos space agency. All astronauts have been launched to orbit via Soyuz rockets since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, and NASA is particularly eager to bring launches back to the US.

If Monday's test goes well, we might get to see a Starliner launch carrying humans at some point in the coming months. You can watch below via the embedded NASA video. Test is set for 6 a.m. PT, but there's a three-hour launch window in case of any delays.