See Boeing Starliner meet its massive rocket buddy before key NASA test

Stacking a spacecraft on a honking huge rocket requires a lot of lifting.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Boeing's Starliner capsule on its way to meet the Atlas V rocket.

United Launch Alliance

NASA and Boeing just moved closer to sending Starliner on its first mission to space. Boeing is gearing up for an uncrewed flight test of the capsule, which is now intimately acquainted with the hefty rocket that'll send it off to the International Space Station. 

On Thursday, Boeing shipped the CST-100 Starliner to United Launch Alliance's Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility. That's at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Then, heavy machinery built for the task lifted the spacecraft up, up, up to the top of a ULA Atlas V rocket.

ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno shared a time-lapse video of the impressive undertaking on Twitter. "Woohoo. Starliner is mated to the Mighty Atlas," Bruno wrote.

The unpiloted Orbital Test Flight must go smoothly before NASA will put actual astronauts on board a Starliner capsule. SpaceX , the other participant in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, successfully sent its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS earlier in 2019 but has yet to launch humans. 

The aim of the Commercial Crew Program is to launch NASA astronauts from US soil for the first time since the end of the space-shuttle era in 2011. NASA wants to end its reliance on buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Both Boeing and SpaceX have hit multiple delays, but a crewed Crew Dragon could potentially launch in early 2020.

The meeting of the machines between Starliner and Atlas V seems to indicate this particular test flight is on schedule and that we're one more step closer to sending astronauts directly from the US to the ISS.

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