Science | July 26, 2021 12:05 pm

The Space Launch With the Biggest Stakes Is Actually Happening This Friday

Can this get Boeing back on track?

Starliner
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019.
Getty Images

For the last few weeks, news of space exploration has been dominated by news of (cue deep voice) Billionaires In Space. And while both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s efforts for orbital tourism have each been in the works for years, with plenty of ups and downs, they’re less about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and more about getting more people into outer space, depending on how you define it.

On Friday, Boeing’s Starliner capsule is set for a test flight. It won’t be crewed, but if it goes off without a hitch, it will signify that the company’s work in space exploration is back on track.

Late in 2019, an uncrewed Starliner mission was intended to dock with the International Space Station. This mission did not go as planned; instead, it was unable to reach the desired orbit. Boeing’s subsequent investigation revealed a number of issues, including problems with the craft’s software.

As Andrew Tangel and Micah Maidenberg write for The Wall Street Journal, the upcoming test of the Starliner offers the aerospace company a way to resume the momentum that the failed 2019 test stalled. If the Starliner proves to be capable, NASA will have need of its services to convey crew and cargo to the ISS, along with SpaceX.

The test is scheduled to launch on Friday from Kennedy Space Center. If all goes according to plan, the craft will dock with the ISS and return home on August 5. But symbolically, a successful mission will mean a lot more for Boeing than just that.