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Two astronauts waiting for first ever blastoff aboard an Alabama built Atlas Five rocket


Two veterans from NASA’s space shuttle program are within hours from a historic blastoff involving a rocket built in Alabama. The Atlas five is set to carry a new space capsule called Starliner. NASA is interested in the mission since the new vehicle represents another way to get crew members to and from the International Space Station. Astronaut pilot Sunita Williams* says tonight’s planned liftoff try is a step-by-step process for her and the launch team…

“We spent a lot of time working in development of the spacecraft and working with the folks at ULA understanding our rocket so I personally don't feel it's jitters I just feel like I'm excited to share this opportunity with my friends and family,” Williams said.

U-L-A is short for United Launch Alliance. That’s the company that built the Atlas Five rocket in Alabama at its factory in Decatur. The Atlas has carried unmanned satellites and space probes up to now. Previous payloads have included the Mars InSight lander to the Red Planet and the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Astronaut Commander Barry Wilmore has flown on the space shuttle and a Russian space capsule called Soyuz. He says these final hours will be spent gearing up…

“And it’s been a thrilling process, I mean to be two Navy test pilots, and all the process going into this first flight, and all that goes into that, and the discovery we’ve had over the years, working with our Boeing counterparts,” he said.

Boeing built the Starliner. Observers of the space program have confidence in the Alabama Atlas Five, but concerns remain regarding the Starliner itself. Previous unmanned missions have experienced problems with communications and docking software, as well as the parachute harnesses that are supposed to cushion the planned touchdown on dry land. Starliner builder Boeing says those problems have been addressed.





Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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