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Sunita Williams’ Historic Space Flight After 2 Aborted Launch Attempts

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Indian-origin NASA astronaut Sunita Williams finally flew into space this evening on the Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft she helped design on the third launch attempt.

A series of technical issues had forced the launch to be aborted twice just minutes before liftoff with Ms Williams and her colleague Butch Wilmore strapped in and seated inside Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, attempting its maiden space flight with humans. Now, the US space agency is making every effort to ensure a safe flight despite the setbacks.

The last launch scheduled for June 1, 2024, was scrubbed less than four minutes before liftoff as one of the ground computers flagged a technical issue in the rocket. The ULA said it has replaced the faulty computer parts that put a hold on the mission.

An earlier attempt on May 7, 2024, was postponed hours before liftoff due to a technical glitch involving a valve. “Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and NASA scrubbed the previous launch opportunity on May 7 (India time) due to a suspect oxygen relief valve on the Atlas V rocket’s Centaur second stage. Since then, teams have removed and replaced the valve, and completed an assessment of the Starliner’s performance and redundancy after discovering a small helium leak in the spacecraft’s service module,” NASA said in a statement. 

With two launches called off, the Starliner is much delayed and way over budget. Some say that the problems plaguing Boeing’s aviation business may also be spilling into its space business.

In 2014, NASA awarded a $4.2 billion contract to Boeing to build a spacecraft from scratch. Ten years later, it has not seen a single successful human space flight. In contrast, Space X which was given a similar contract for the development of Crew Dragon was delivered at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion. SpaceX is already ferrying astronauts to the ISS on its crew module.

Ms Williams, a poster girl for women aspiring to fly into space, is set to reach for the skies again in the brand-new spacecraft. This will be the third space travel for the Indian-origin astronaut, who has spent 322 days in space and held a record for the maximum number of spacewalk hours by a woman, before being overtaken by Peggy Whitson.

This time, she made history as the first woman to fly on a maiden crewed mission on a brand new space shuttle.

Ms Williams’s first space voyage was from December 9, 2006, to June 22, 2007. While on board, she scripted a record for women with four spacewalks clocking 29 hours and 17 minutes. 

Ahead of her third space journey, the 59-year-old admitted to being a bit nervous but maintained that she has no jitters about flying the new spacecraft that she helped design, working with engineers from NASA and Boeing. 

“When I reach the International Space Station, it will be like going back home,” she said.

On her past flights, she carried her “lucky charm” – an idol of Lord Ganesh, and a copy of the Bhagwad Gita. It is not yet known if she would carry them to space this time.

 Indian-origin NASA astronaut Sunita Williams finally flew into space this evening on the Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft she helped design on the third launch attempt.    

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