Starliner launches two Americans into orbit

Nasa astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are in orbit this afternoon following the launch of Boeing's Starliner rocket, only the second manned U.S. mission to space since Space Shuttle Atlantis last took off in 2011. Jump to 4 hours and 10 minutes into the embed below.

Starliner took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, after many delays, organization and technical, including technical mishaps that saw the date bumped twice in two weeks.

The launch is a "giant leap"—Nasa's words—toward the massive rocket and module being considered officially ready for regular duty. Last month, the BBC reported on what Starliner means for a U.S. space industry that had become dependent on Russia for human transportation.

After 13 years, the first crewed launch of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft means it is finally being fully realised. The viability of the CCP model, not to mention Boeing's already fragile reputation depend on a successful test flight.

"It's been a long road to get here," says Makena Young, a fellow with the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. "I think it's a reminder that although we have a good record, space is still really difficult and it's hard to be successful."

The idea behind the CCP is that instead of Nasa designing, building and owning its spacecraft, it buys seats from commercial operators. You could liken it to purchasing a seat on an aeroplane, albeit a seat that costs more than $55m (£44m) for a return trip and involves billions of dollars of taxpayer investment to construct the vehicle in the first place.

Boeing has competition, and it is behind: SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which in 2020 achieved the first manned mission since Atlantis's final trip up. Two key features of both platforms (Boeing, SpaceX) are escape systems for use during ascent.