As commercial crew astronauts climb inside Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the first time atop of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, there will be something very familiar about what they are doing.
This is because of a new simulator that arrived today at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The Boeing Mission Simulator is a full-scale mock-up of the Starliner outfitted with the same state-of-the-art interior as the real spacecraft. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Suni Williams worked with the simulator after its assembly in St. Louis before it was shipped to Texas.
The purpose of the simulator is to allow astronauts to rehearse all aspects of a mission to the International Space Station so the detailed functions they might need to perform will seem as routine as possible. The Starliner is autonomous, but the training tools designed for the spacecraft will allow an astronaut to go beyond the typical mission parameters to train for the unexpected while in a safe environment.
The simulator will join Boeing’s Crew Part-Task Trainers in the Jake Garn Mission Simulator and Training Facility, which were installed in 2016. The part-task trainers simulate specific aspects of a flight whereas the large mission simulator allows the astronaut to be fully immersed in the spaceflight experience from beginning to end. Last year, Boeing also unveiled an entire training facility in Houston call the Space Training, Analysis and Review Facility, or STAR, which will house two other training devices all designed to help astronauts and support teams from Mission Control to astronauts aboard the space station. Together, all training tools will prepare astronauts for variety of situations while in flight.
Boeing is building the Starliner system in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is partnering with private industry to return human spaceflight to the United States. Boeing is one of two companies that will take astronauts to and from the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit so NASA can focus on deep-space exploration. The public-private partnership brings together industry innovation with NASA’s long history of human spaceflight experience.