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The first Starliner astronauts have finally arrived at the International Space Station

The first Starliner astronauts have finally arrived at the International Space Station

The first two astronauts carried by Boeing's Starliner spacecraft entered the International Space Station on Thursday, a crucial step taken for this years-awaited mission, despite the discovery of new problems during the flight.

• Read also: The Starliner was able to dock despite delays related to propulsion problems

• Read also: The Boeing Starliner spacecraft finally took off with its first astronauts to the International Space Station

“What a wonderful place, and it's great to be back here,” NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore said with a smile. This is his third stay on the International Space Station (ISS), as well as his colleague Sonny Williams.

This first crewed Starliner mission represents a major challenge for the aerospace giant and NASA. It aims to prove that the vehicle is safe to begin regular operations.

Ten years ago, the US Space Agency ordered two new vehicles from the American companies Boeing and SpaceX to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station. If SpaceX has already played this role as a space taxi for four years, Boeing's program is years behind schedule.

“When Starliner is certified, the United States will have two systems to transport humans to the International Space Station, and no other country has that,” recalls NASA associate administrator Jim Frey.

After taking off from Florida the day before, the spacecraft slowly approached the International Space Station on Thursday, at an altitude of about 400 kilometers above Earth. The docking took place at 5:34 PM GMT, about an hour and twenty minutes later than initially scheduled.

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Problems with the ship's thrusters, used to make small course adjustments, delayed the final approach.

NASA explained that five of these small engines, out of 28, failed at some point. But four of them were eventually restarted, providing the necessary numbers for the operation.

These driving problems shouldn't be a concern […] “The other phases of the mission,” Steve Stich, a senior NASA official, said at a news conference.

The spacecraft's door opened about two hours after docking, allowing astronauts Butch Wilmore, 61, and Sonny Williams, 58, to be greeted by the seven other people already aboard the flight laboratory — NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts.

The two Boeing passengers will have to spend just over a week on the International Space Station before returning to Earth, still aboard the Starliner.