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Inside Look: A NASA Social Experience at Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test

Updated: Jun 8

Artimus Moon Astronauts in front of Boeing Starliner
Artimus II Astronauts will go to the Moon in 2025. Starliner is in the background ready for launch.

One of our subscribers recently suggested we apply to attend a “NASA Social” event that would give us an insider’s view of the Starliner mission (CST-100) and NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test at the Kennedy Space Center(KSC), which we could, in turn, share with our audience.  Only five times before has there been a new manned American spacecraft.  The Maiden Voyage of the Starliner mission follows Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle, and Space X Dragon test flights.  Space veterans Butch Willmore and Suni Williams will be the test pilots who fly Starliner manually for the first time.  Tammy and I had to fill out our applications separately, and at the time, it seemed that our chances of being selected were about the same as winning the lottery.  Low and Behold, not just one, but both of us received invitations, and in the end, we had the experience of a lifetime.

NASA Social is an outreach program that gives select groups of Social Media Content Creators Press-Like access to the working facilities of KSC, speak with some of the people who play key roles in the American Space Program, and view a Launch from the iconic press grounds where the official countdown clock sits.

Boeing Starliner and ULA Atlas V on pad
A pre-launch peek at Boeing Starliner and ULA Atlas V at pad 41

The Starliner Mission will provide a new Space Transportation System (STS) that will take Astronauts to Low Earth Orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS), future space stations, and other Satellites.  Each Starliner Crew Capsule will be reusable up to 10 times to reduce mission costs and will add redundancy to services now provided by Space X to transport Astronauts into space.  Starliner is intended to play a key role in a new golden age of space flight where private companies will provide the innovation and technology that will ultimately lead to the colonization of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Our NASA Social experience occurred over three days leading up to the intended launch of Starliner. The NASA Social team chaperoned our group of about 30 Engineers, Authors, Professors, Photographers, Artists, Vloggers, and Bloggers to the backstage of KSC to learn about the intricate details that are central to the American Space Program.

NASA Social Group
This was our NASA Social group after our press briefing

During our visit, we were introduced to many brilliant minds who manage the day-to-day operations at KSC.  Our Stops included the Boeing SpaceCraft Processing Facility, the Vehicle Assembly Buiding (VAB), the Advanced Spaceflight Operations Center(ASOC), and The Kennedy Space Center Press Site.  The day before the intended launch, we were granted permission to view the fully prepped Atlas V Rocket/Starliner duo rollout from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) to the launch tower at Pad 41.  

Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center
Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is the largest single story building in the world
NASA Launch Pad Crawler
Mobile Launch Pad Crawler to move Rockets from VAB to Pad -
Boeing Starliner 1 at the Spacecraft Processing Facility
Starliner 1 Crew Capsule being built at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility - Anticipated Launch February 2025
Launch Conductor at the Advanced Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC)
Launch Conductor Doug Lebo explains the sequence of launch events in the ASOC (launch control room)
NASA News Media Center
Waiting for the NASA Social Panel to begin
Kennedy Space Center Press Site
Kennedy Space Center Press Site with view of pad 39a

On the morning of Starliner’s highly anticipated journey to space, we were shuttled to launch complex 41 to stand just outside the gate at the foot of the rocket, just a few feet from where Butch and Suni would enter the elevator that would lift them to the Command Module in a few short hours.  As if that were not enough of an adrenaline rush, an unexpected surprise for our group came when, right there at the foot of the Atlas V, we had an intimate impromptu meet and greet with all but one of the Artimus II Crew who will visit the Moon next year.  We actually had the chance to shake hands, chat, and take pictures with the first Astronauts to return to the Moon since the Apollo Program ended in 1972.

Boeing Starliner and ULA Atlas V Rocket at Pad 41
Standing next to Starliner on the morning of the launch
Reid Wiseman, Commander of Artimus II
Reid Wiseman, Commander of Artimus II speaks to us
Reid Wiseman, commander of Artimus II at Starliner Launch Pad
Tammy and Reid Wiseman, Commander of the Artimus II Moon Mission at the Starliner Launch Pad
Victor Glover Pilot of Artimus II Moon Mission
Scott gets a fist bump with Victor Glover, Pilot of the Artimus II Moon Mission

Then, as the sun was setting, we were driven to the Niel Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, where Butch and Suni were suiting up for their journey to the ISS while family, friends, dignitaries, security details, and the press lined up to send them off with an adoring cheer.  We felt privileged to be able to witness the traditional Astronaut walk out through the same iconic doors that led so many space heroes of the past to an awaiting Astronaut shuttle vehicle.  

Director of Nasa Bill Nelson
Director of NASA Bill Nelson greets our group as we wait for Butch and Suni
Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams Departing for launch
Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams Departing for Launch

As the convoy made the 20-minute trip to the launch pad darkness descended upon the Cape.  Our group was escorted to a conference room at the press site, where we chatted excitedly about the events of the day, ate snacks, and listened to NASA TV commentary as the countdown proceeded.  Butch and Suni were strapped into their seats in the command module, and support crews were about to close the hatch as the terminal count hovered over the two-hour mark.  It was then that the word Scrub was first mentioned in the room.  The launch had been scrubbed for unknown reasons and rescheduled for the following night, and all of the energy left the room with a hush.  

We were prepared for a Scrub from the very beginning; after all, this is rocket science.  But when it actually happened, there were no words to express how disappointing the moment was.  Many in the group had jobs to return to and planes to catch in the morning and had to answer “no” when asked if they would return the next day.  On the ride back to our cars, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline and Elton Johns Rocket Man were broadcast loud over the bus speakers from a playlist previously prepared for the letdown of a scrubbed launch.  

By morning, we discovered that the launch had been delayed for at least a week due to a failing valve in the Centaur Stage of the Atlas V rocket. We had to return home, hoping to drive across the Florida Peninsula again to witness it when it finally launched.  As of the time of this post-Butch and Suni remain in quarantine awaiting the go-ahead to try again.  Only time will tell whether our circumstances will allow us the opportunity to watch the launch live, but no matter what, we had an incredible experience at the NASA Social and will always consider it to be the opportunity of a lifetime. 

If you think you might be interested in applying to attend future NASA Socials or just want to learn more about it, you can visit their website using the following link.


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